Tonight I finished transcribing one of the two existing diaries of my great-grandmother, Elvirta Graves Knutz; she started this particular journal in 1956 at the age of 66. I have 221 typed pages representing eleven years of her life.
When I started this project, I had hoped for two things: 1) to glean genealogical information, and 2) to get to know my great grandmother in a deeper, more personal way.
I did indeed fill in a lot of dates and family happenings, but was a little disappointed when it came to getting her perspective on life. She was very good at reporting events, both major events and daily activities, but she didn’t share much of her feelings about those events. Once, she did let a little anger show regarding her husband’s unwillingness to sell the farm and move to town; and another time, a bit of smug satisfaction at having shown him she wasn’t quite as dumb as he seemed to think. It was fun to see these emotions in an otherwise quiet and dutiful wife and mother.
Not everyone has the opportunity to go back in time and spend 11 years with family members they love and miss; I have been extremely blessed to get to do just that. Over these years, I not only “spent time” with my great grandparents, but my beloved grandparents, and even my own parents, as teenagers and then newlyweds. In many ways, I felt like Marty McFly in “Back to the Future,” watching as my parents courted, married, and began to raise a family. I found this becoming less and less of a transcription project, and more and more of a chance to spend time with people I hadn’t seen in a very, very long while.
I didn’t realize just how deeply I had been absorbed into this until the last few months of my great-grandfather’s life, “listening” as my great grandmother told the difficult story of his death, and the days after. Like her, there were times I didn’t think I wanted to keep going. But at the same time, I couldn’t stop.
The diary ends abruptly the following year. Elvirta had gone to Arizona to visit her daughter, and had been there 7 months, and suddenly, there are no more pages. She lived another five years, so I assume there was another notebook somewhere. I hope the rest of it turns up some day, and I can resume our visit and finish her story.