There are days I feel that writing is in my DNA. As sure as I inherited small hands, heavy brows, a propensity for sweets and a tendency towards diabetes, words are in my blood.
My grandfather was a writer. Not a particularly glamorous kind of writer, he worked for the phone company. I understand that he was responsible for the company newsletter, and I imagine he did some technical writing as well. It seems unlikely the newsletter would take up all of his time, or that they would keep someone on just to put together a newsletter during the Depression, but I don’t really know what he did.
I never knew my grandfather. He was in his fifties when my mother was born, and died when she was 25. I wasn’t born for another dozen years.
My grandfather was the son of Irish immigrants–his mother from Galway and his father from Dublin. One of my uncles told me that they both spoke Irish better than they spoke English and that neither of them ever learned to read. I don’t know if that’s true or not, my uncle liked a good story, and was not particularly concerned with what most of us would consider to be the truth.
I do know that my grandfather never went to college, but that he had an excellent education through high school growing up in Baltimore. I would imagine he went to Catholic school, but, again I don’t really know. I am aware that completing high school in those days was not particularly common in those days, and that a man could support a family on a high school diploma, but I have to wonder if he was rare in his field.
He had a column in the newspaper of the small town where he and my grandmother raised their eight children. He wrote a book, which he published himself using what was then called a “vanity press,” in 1928. I was aware of the existence of this book as a child–my mother had a copy–but it never seemed like something I would ever want to read. It is a history of the region serviced by the phone company for which he worked.
For a time, my mother scoured rare book web sites for copies of the book. This was when the internet was relatively new in people’s homes. I helped her locate and order a few copies, and I am confident that there are few surviving copies that she did not purchase and give to one of his grandchildren.
I was in my early twenties when I was given my copy as a birthday gift. The book had been given as a gift to someone at least once before–there was an inscription, and it was dated with not just the day I was born, but my actual birth date.
It fell open to the start of a chapter, and I read a few paragraphs. The chapter was about the area where I had grown up, suburbs now and when I was a child, but little inhabited when he was describing it. I recognized it from his description of the few historic landmarks, and by his referencing of a particular road derived from an American Indian trail. This road was just two blocks from the house where I grew up, and still has the same name as it did it colonial times.
Apart from the coincidences about my birthday and the very area where I lived, I realized something else. There was something about the writing that reminded me of something I’d read before. There was something familiar in the rhythm, the pace, and the use of punctuation.
“It’s you, you dummy,” I thought to myself. “This reminds you of you.”
3 thoughts on “Fourteenth Slice: Heritage”
That moment of realization was a powerful ending.
I really enjoyed hearing your story of your grandfather and his writing. There is so much we wish we could ask them isn’t there? The book he wrote and the inscription are so lovely for you to have too. I really love the story behind old things and knowing who has owned it before makes it so much more special. Thanks for sharing. Happy St Patricks day for next Tuesday. 🙂
This is a great story! It’s fun to learn about the past, especially regarding family members. I enjoyed the way you rolled out this story and ending it with the moment you saw yourself in your grandfather. It’s especially powerful knowing you never met him. Thanks for sharing!