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It was Christmas 1969 in the Tennessee mountains when my grandmother (aka Grandpa*) opened her gift from a friend. The present was a handsome, small, green leather diary with a gold lock and key. Grandpa had never written in a journal before, but she felt she must use her friend's generous gift. My humorous grandmother wrote on the inside cover, "I'll try to remember to write as the days pass, but guess I'll forget to write half the time!"
Grandpa never missed a day until the end of 1970, when grief left the pages void of words.
Last year, while searching for an old photo in a box Mom left me, I found the diary. Reading this beloved woman's words as she lives through the year is an indescribable blessing. I feel Grandpa left a bit of her soul for me to find. And ironically, in 1970, she was the same age I am now.
First entry: Jan. 1, 1970
Thursday, Jan. 1, 1970: “Mother fell and hurt her arm. Ice and snow accumulated on Monterey’s roads, causing treacherous driving conditions. I stayed with her all night. It was slick out there, but I made it!"
The next day, she wrote, in part, “I finished crocheting an afghan, but I didn't like it!" Why did she diligently work to complete it if she didn't like it? But knowing her, I am confident she gave it to someone who indeed loved or needed it.
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On the following Sunday, she bathed her mother, washed her clothes, attended all church services and relished the beautiful winter day when the sun glistened on the new-fallen snow.
Jan. 11, 1970: “The weather dropped to 8 degrees below zero today. I couldn’t go to Sunday school because I needed to stay with my mother, who is in the hospital, and also help my very sick brother."
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Recording the weather and taking care of others
This was how Grandpa spent her first days of a new year. As I read each page, I realized there was not one day that she didn’t explain the weather conditions, care for someone, check on someone else, prepare a meal, and go to church on Sundays. She was able to get her hair done on some Saturdays, listed the folks who had passed away and prayed for folks who were still living.
By early June that year, while caring for all the others, Grandpa was hospitalized. She took her little diary with her, and even though ill, she still described the weather as she looked out her hospital room window.
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Later in June, my first child was born, and she visited us in Georgia. How joyful we were, but her mother and brother were not well when she returned to the mountains. And she again drove the roads each day to care for them.
On Dec. 2, 1970, Grandpa’s mother, Mollie Randolph Sparks, died with her daughter by her side. On Dec. 5, she wrote, “It’s mother’s birthday. She would have been 94. I miss her so much today, but she is asleep in a better place. No more suffering and pain."
Nine days later, on Dec. 11, her beloved brother died and was laid to rest beside his mother. After the funeral, the words ended in the little green diary except for one sentence the following day: “It’s pretty today.”
A year in the life of a woman who cared for others more than herself. She found beauty and wonder in the sun shining, the garden blooming, sewing aprons, laughing with her grandchildren, attending church every Sunday and catching fish. Even in pain, Grandpa was happy. Unlike any heart I have ever known, her life reflected a soul filled with love for her friends, family and God.
Not once on her pages did she speak of politics, philosophy or discord. She was the salt of the earth, a beacon for faith and adored by countless folks. Her unselfish acts of kindness and giving taught me courage, determination and to relish even the coldest, darkest days.
Grandpa lived God's words and principles all her days without one ounce of hypocrisy, complaint or self-importance. She could be willful but never mean-spirited, and unkind words were never spoken or written.
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What story will your diary tell this year? Will your days record your unselfish love for others? Will kindness reign in your life? And will you notice how beautiful a day is even when life is challenging?
If you do, someone in the future possibly will write your name and spread your life journey to inspire others. It is how we live each day that gives our earthly time value.
How do we enrich our lives, heal our souls and enjoy our world? The answer is simply, "With love and kindness."
Lynn Walker Gendusa is a writer in Georgia and the author of the new book "Southern Comfort." She is originally from Monterey, Tennessee.
This article originally appeared on Nashville Tennessean: Grandpa's diary was a guide for living