Listen and write: Keepsake
Hello. Here is my contribution for Listen and Write in Ermilia’s Blog here. I hope you enjoy.
I was going through Grandpa’s old stuff in the days after the funeral. We were all supposed to do it but everybody else was still too shell-shocked to. All his possessions, everything he had, had been placed into a pile of boxes “just in case” he came back from the nursing home. My instructions were deliberately vague. I had a list of certain items that various aunts and uncles had been promised before Grandpa passed on. Everything else was supposed to be sorted out and kept or thrown out as required. Nearly every item that I took out held a memory, each feel, each smell reminded me of my visits to see him in my youth. The deeper I got though, things started to get more mysterious, things from before I knew him, things from his past. Right at the bottom, as if hidden by all the rest of the clothes and knickknacks I found something that really got my attention.
It was a box, covered in cloth with an ornate pattern on it. When I opened the box it held a book, a diary. It looked well-worn, the pages slightly yellowed with time. I opened the pages and looked over them. On the first page it said ‘Property of Joanna Smith‘ in a clean script. I didn’t recognise the name, it certainly wasn’t Grandma. I flipped over a few pages and started to read an entry.
‘April 13th 1952; I was out with Jonny at the fairground today. They had all sorts of rides and games to play. So many noises and colours, it was so exciting. Jonny tried to get me to go with him on the Ferris Wheel but I was too scared. He didn’t seem sore about it though. I was able to hit five ducks in the shooting gallery and won a teddy bear. He gave it to me. He is very generous like that.’
I though about the name Jonny for a minute and remembered that Grandpa’s name was Jonathan. I turned a couple of pages and read again. There was a large photo of a house.
‘ September 15th 1952; This is the house that Jonny says he is going to buy for us when we get married. It is just a dream, central heating, electric cooker, all of the mod cons. I ask him how will he be able to afford it but Jonny just says that it might be a lot of money but we will have the whole of the rest of our lives to pay it over. I like how he has such great notions for the future.‘
Who was this woman? I had never heard about her before. I looked a bit further on. There were more photos, clippings from newspapers and finally, a picture of my Grandpa as a young man, with his arm around a young woman, this was presumably Joanna. There was writing underneath the photograph ‘January 1st 1953; I can’t believe it. I just can’t believe it. Jonny proposed to me last night. Right at the stroke of midnight, he can be so romantic sometimes. I love him so much. I can’t wait to start our life together.‘ There was more. Underneath Joanna’s delicate script was another persons handwriting. I recognised it as Grandpa’s. ‘I look forward to spending my life together with you Jo. I love you so much‘
I turned the page to see what else was there. But it was empty. I tried a few more pages and still, nothing. There was no more about Grandpa or this mystery woman.
I couldn’t stop thinking about what I had read, neither my Mother or my aunts or uncles knew anything about anyone called Joanna. In the end I asked old Jim Fitzgerald, who had known my Grandpa most of his life. When I mentioned Joanna’s name to him he went a bit wistful and said. “Joanna was from the same town as your grandfather, they grew up together and they were very close. He even ended up asking her to marry him. But she got killed when a car she was in skidded on some ice, January I think it was. He was all heart broke about it. Ended up moving here right after it.”
Jim kept on talking. About how he had then met my Grandma and had my mother and all my aunts and uncles but I didn’t really listen to him. I could only think about the diary. About the blank pages. How they had been as worn and dog-eared as the parts with writing. As if someone, my Grandpa, had spent a lot of time looking through them. Thinking about what might have been, if things had gone differently. Thinking about the pages that were destined to remain, unwritten.