Dear diary… I am old enough to remember those precious little books with gold leaf-edged pages and a delicate lock and key. Designed to look like miniature treasure chests, diaries have preserved secrets and memories for generations. As unique as the people who write them, when you open a page of a diary, you are transported to a time and a place made rich with the intricacies of the author’s own written word.
Judging by the racks of journals at Barnes & Noble and Papyrus, diaries and journaling are as popular as ever. It is interesting to me that in this high-tech age, we still long to record tales and observations with our own hand, or in some rare instances, with our own voice.
I say this because my favorite diary wasn’t hand-written. It was dictated by my grandmother when she was 90 years old.
An immigrant from Calabria, Italy, Anna grew up on a farm “at the tip of the boot” and had never learned to read or write.
A resourceful and independent woman, she was widowed by 45. My grandfather, who was much older than she was, worked hard in the steel mills of Ohio but was also a real estate investor. He purchased several rental properties in Cleveland, and by the time he passed away, he had “set Anna up” for the future.
When she was 90 years old, my grandmother had to move to assisted living and later to a nursing home. Savings from her rental properties paid for her care until she passed away at 101. She believed in paying her own way, and she did just that. Medicaid never even kicked in.
But back to the diary. When Anna had surgery at the age of 90, facing her own mortality, she felt the need to record her story. Because she was illiterate, she couldn’t transcribe it herself, so she asked my niece to write it down. She dictated for several hours every day. She talked so much that her throat was hoarse and her voice grew faint. She desperately wanted to leave her story behind.
My niece transcribed every word verbatim, so the diary is written in broken English. It is rich with tales of a beautiful 16-year-old girl in Italy, an arranged marriage, a trip by boat to America with her 10-year-old daughter, and Anna’s life as a widow. I treasure it.
When my grandmother passed away recently, I thought about her and all of us and our primal need to tell our story. Whether you blog, Instagram, maintain a Facebook timeline, or keep a handwritten journal, make your story heard in your own voice. The written word matters. The pen IS mightier than the sword. And everyone’s unique voice should be preserved.