Several months ago, my grandmother called to inform me that my uncle was moving, and that he could no longer house the collected works of my grandfather, a small town writer whose newspaper column in the LaFollette Press spanned decades. She inquired if I might wish to adopt them, to care for and ensure that they remain in the loving arms of family. Instantly I accepted the offer, secretly excited she had asked me to be the guarantor of such priceless words and memories.
However, once we arrived to my uncle’s home that day to retrieve them, we were completely overwhelmed and unprepared for what we saw. My grandfather was a writer in the decades before computers, jump drives, and smart phones. These were not “digital copies” of his columns. There, on a rainy afternoon on a small front porch stood three metal filing cabinets stuffed to the brim of papers. Each column submission had a file folder, and in each file folder contained several copies of the same work. There were manuscripts of his books that he had mailed. There were contracts of the board game he created. There were newspaper clippings, “fan mail”, and check stubs from freelance pieces he had submitted. There was a large, royal blue, framed copy of the book cover “Tales of the South of the Mason Dixon Line”, his collection of short stories published, and in my opinion, his finest work. I stood, staring blankly at the task set before us. What in the world would I do what all of these filing cabinets?
I did what any married woman with a small house filled to the brim with children would do: I put them in my parents’ basement.
My husband, my father and I quickly tackled the heavy cabinets, loading pickup trucks and minivans with drawers of memories, blanketed carefully to shield them from the impending downpour. Hours passed, as I ran my fingertips across the file tabs, selecting pieces to read and reflect. Tears streamed down my face as I recognized his handwriting from before he had his stroke. Laughter filled the basement as I scanned through notes that people in this very town had mailed to him, just to let him know his words meant something.
My grandfather was not posting things on Instagram or sharing posts on Facebook. He was out there in the community, taking me and my brother to Riggs for a hamburger or to Woodson’s Mall to chat with the “mall walkers”. While I grew from playground to prom, he was sitting in that home office he had so expertly created, with those metal filing cabinets, collecting stories. Preserving memories. And when another grandchild graduated or got married, or something funny happened at the store, or the way my grandmother looked at him made his heart skip a beat, his fingers found the keys and the typing began. Then another file folder was created. Little did he know, he was the narrator of all of our lives.
My grandfather enjoyed a life well lived because he did not share every single hot cup of coffee or trip to the park on his iPhone. He lived a life without distraction and soaked in every moment, because each moment adds up to a collective whole. That coffee at Hardee’s meant something because of the person sitting across from him, sipping their own. That trip to the park meant fresh air and exercise. He left a legacy that his granddaughter could hold in her hands and read, any time she missed him and just wished he was here. To tell her she looked pretty that day and whom to vote for in the presidential election. He left a gentle reminder about the way things were, and the ways things should be. And that wisdom is preserved in 750 words or less, for generations and generations to come.
There are going to be days when I just do not know what to do next. In the meantime, I decided to hang that framed copy of his book cover on my living room wall, and to keep writing, so my kids will have plenty of filing cabinets to move in the rain someday.
(Note: This article appeared in the Lafollette Press, in my lifestyles column, Letters from the Nest).