But it wasnít until she died in August 2002 that I truly came to know what kind of woman she was.
At my grandmotherís funeral, my aunt, her youngest child, read the story of her life. I had never known it. Sure, I had known she and her family immigrated to America from Germany in the early 1900s. I knew she was conservative. I knew she liked to read the newspaper and watch the birds that came to the feeder outside her window. I knew she loved her grandchildren fiercely. These are things that made up part of who she was, but I still feel that I had never really known her.
Sitting in the cathedral where my mother was baptized, where my parents and many of my aunts and uncles were married, I learned that she had taught art. She was Baptist but raised her children Catholic out of love for her husband. She was a shrewd investor Ė in fact, I later learned she was the one paying for my college education, and the college education of my cousins and brother (there are almost 20 of us). She loved reading and learning about politics; she watched the news every day. I even learned that day that my grandmotherís real name was not Edna, as I had thought it was for my entire 18 years.
American immigration officials had changed it from Annaliese when she moved here at the age of 2. I cried then, not only out of grief over her loss, but because I felt like I had lost the opportunity to know her, to know where I came from.
This is, in part, why I write. If we do not record our lives, events and even the smallest fragments of daily observations, we will have missed out on something. I, for one, plan on telling my grandchildren about my life, but even if I die before I get the chance, they will be able to read about it. Not only will they be able to read the articles I wrote to get a better sense of what was going on in my lifetime, but they will also have a great store of writing about me, and my life: my many journals and scraps of description I jotted down on the subway and around school. I donít know if it will matter to them that on April 30, 2002, I couldnít sleep because I had just found out I had been accepted into my first internship program. And maybe theyíll laugh at my June 19, 2002, description of a 5-year-old boy staring at a grown man eating a yellow creamsicle for five full minutes. But that information will be there for them, if they want it. And maybe when they read my Dec. 21, 2003, journal entry, when the nationís terror threat level was raised, and I was sitting in my dorm room 10 miles from Washington, D.C., worrying about being bombed, they will learn something about where they came from, something more than a fuzzy snapshot of a quiet old woman who once learned the same lessons, only too little, too late.
Copyright © 2004 Kendra Nichols