Friday, July 22, 2011

Special Packages and Summer Afternoons

I didn’t plan on having a dreamy summer afternoon today, but arriving home from morning errands, I was greeted by my diligent postal service representative with a compact box requiring my signature. I had been expecting the package, but I guess being mentally prepared wasn’t the same thing as being heart-prepared: when I opened the box, I fell in love with the first item tucked carefully beneath the tissue wrapping.

It was a diary.

A teenager, turning “Sweet Sixteen” in the midst of this journal’s pages, catalogued the places she frequented, the friends she spent time with, the events she attended—all in the plainspoken matter-of-fact manner of the younger generation. The only difference was that this writer began telling her story on New Year’s Day in 1906.

I was entranced because, this afternoon, I got to read the words she wrote so many years ago—descriptions of the people and events related to my husband’s paternal grandmother, Agnes Tully. For this writer was Agnes’ cousin Edna.

For so many years, I had scoured census records detailing the addresses where Edna lived, copied documents recording the significant events in her life, and compared notes with other researchers’ online postings. But now I got to read about these people and places as seen from her own fifteen-year-old eyes.

I mulled over entries giving initials only, guessing who those initials might represent. I saw mentions of cousins’ names, knowing where they fit in the family picture. I lived through her memories with her, in this little glimpse she allowed, and tried to absorb the essence of what life must have seemed like for a fresh face at the turn of a different century.

Before I knew it, my afternoon had flown. I had been living in a different life for a time, and it lent its timelessness to me.

There was more to find in that box, of course, but those discoveries will wait for another day. For now, I just wanted to savor the memories of another relative’s life.

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