Edith Rosetta Smith Glauser, my grandmother. She got baptized in a tiny town in Nebraska, moved to Salt Lake with one sister at the age of 13, married who turned out to be a stubborn and grumpy man for 45 years, raised six kids, cleaned the whole house every Friday, loved to ski and play tennis, stayed dedicated to her marriage despite advice of church leaders, hosted monthly fast Sunday dinners, served a couples mission in Czech Republic, did enormous amounts of genealogical research, enjoyed the last years with her husband, and died of a second bout of cancer. If I'm doing my math right, today would have been her 82nd birthday. I thus find it appropriate that I finished reading the eight years of her journals this week.
There were parts that made me laugh out loud and others that enlightened me about family. I gobbled up every word. One entry was entirely dedicated to me:
February 26, 2003
Today is Michelle's 18th birthday. It is hard to believe she is that old. I can see her so plainly the day she was born in that little hospital bed. She had dark hair. Dave's children are all blonds so it was quite a shock. She has grown into a beautiful, bright and industrious girl. She gets good grades, is in a miriad [sic] of things and works at the East Mill Creek Library. We love this girl!!
When I got to her last journal entry, I thought, "Surely it doesn't end here . . . she had almost a full year left." I'm eagerly waiting for some family members to get back to me about whether there are more journals and a personal history that she mentions writing. I wanted everyone else (especially those who knew her) to read what I had read. I could go on forever about my grandma.
There is one picture of her that makes me think I look like her (I inherited my longer nose from her), so I've posed it with one of me at about that age (just try to ignore the glasses):
Here's another sample:
I miss Grandma. I feel bad that I didn't do baptisms as often as she wanted--she mentions over and over in her journal how important genealogy is to her. I wish she could be here to meet my future kids. But I also feel sure that I'll see her again.
Next week there's a Sunstone symposium about Mormon material culture (and they'll also be talking about the Pagoda chapel, which my grandparents helped build), to which I submitted some photographs and the following about my grandma's journal.
My academic interests lie in women’s autobiographical acts—anything from historical spirituality-seeking journal-writing to today’s to Tweeting, blogging, and Facebook status updates of today. Though some characteristics of women’s autobiographical acts haven’t changed, modern forms seem more exciting; they have bright colors and pictures and videos and links, discussions can ensue through commenting capabilities, and readers receive current updates rather than posthumous access.
But when I read a copy of my paternal grandmother’s journals, I couldn’t have been more delighted. These journals wouldn’t win any literary awards; as my sister said, “She kept a captain’s log.” But it is the plainness of her account that keeps my grandma alive. I can’t imagine her, as one logical, hardworking, house-making Mormon mother, Edith Rosetta Smith Glauser, recording anything besides how much she paid for the quantity of hams she cooked for Sunday dinner and how many people showed up to enjoy her efforts. She describes helping ward members, welcoming visitors into her home, making quilts with and for grandchildren, and taking trips with my grandpa—because that is what she did and that is what made her happy.
And her adjectives! She describes people and food and work and parties as “dear,” “delicious,” “satisfying,” and “fun.” She sounds upbeat even while undergoing long chemo and radiation treatments. She often bears her testimony of God’s love, the Atonement, and genealogy, and remarks upon the happy miracle of finding the Gospel as a teenager living in rural Nebraska.
Many events she describes I recognize; many are news to me. Whatever the case, my grandma’s words make me want to be more hardworking, close to God, positive, and loving.
When side effects of cold medicine caused her to feel “terrible to have accomplished so little,” I laughed, because her definition of “so little” was to “take down the Christmas lights, clean[ed] the two upstairs bathrooms, clean[ed] the kitchen (the floor was sticky from the Christmas celebrations), change[d] the sheets on [the] bed and d[o] three loads of laundry.” Have I, cold medicine-less, done more than that today, even if my roles are different?
I had an umbrella of Grandma’s—when it broke I fashioned a skirt that still happily reminds me of her. I also have some of her clothing and books. But I find the journals, though copies (maybe someday I will be overjoyed to own the originals), to be the most precious material hand-me-downs. I can never make them truly my own, the way Grandma’s umbrella became a skirt. Her journals will always speak with her voice, with her handwriting, and with her experiences—that is what makes them so powerful to me.
I have three requests. First, dig your own ancestors’ memoirs or diaries out of closets and archives and read them. Secondly, copy, distribute, and please, even digitize them—it is these words from the past that encourage each generation to be better than the last despite differing lifestyles and challenges. And third, record your own experiences and ensure that they will be available to your descendants.
Happy birthday, Grandma!