My official YouTube debut! This is my presentation at SUNY Adirondack on March 29th titled “Adirondack Matriarchs: An Epistolary Legacy.” Unfortunately it starts about ten minutes in, but you get the gist. 📚
I started this blog to motivate me to write. A logical strategy, but before I knew it I was reduced to photo posts that let images speak for me. Just look and you’ll see what I mean. I’ve always been this way about writing anything down to be read by anyone. When I think I have an idea, I let it fester. Yes, fester. To the point that by the time I sit down to write, I’ve convinced myself that it’s been experienced and said. Why bother?
Ruth passed away in 2005, leaving me searching for my purpose, while contemplating hers. She shared so much of our family history while alive, but there were random pieces salvaged in the remnants after her death; items like her first and second semester report cards and text books from Green Mountain Junior College the first year it opened. I knew my grandmother had gone to college but had to return because she was needed at home; she never mentioned that she was 16. The $1,000 she willed me was seed money for my first part-time semester at SUNY Adirondack; this decision changed my life. I had to finish what she started.
Being a student gave me a reason to write. Assignments were given, my audience was clear, and the ‘A’ was well worth the effort. Writing became a distraction from my full-time job. I was successful writing in the comfort of academic papers and research projects. Without a topic, project, or reason, my fingers became idle before beginning.
Academic essays were WD-40 for my self-conscious fingers. I left my job of 20 years and continued full-time as an undergrad. I studied, researched, and wrote about Bradstreet, Fern, Sedgwick, Emerson and his eccentric Aunt Mary, Fuller, Thoreau, Hawthorne and so many other reputable contributors the American literary canon. Impossible shoes to fill. Their lives, and the historicism of their writing filled me with admiration and reverence. My fascination with them motivated me through my masters degree, but unfortunately the assignments ended.
Now that I teach English part-time, I’ve been told we never simply teach. The trick is to have a side-project or two for a creative release. My project started with a gift salvaged from my uncle’s garage and packaged in a Dremel hardcover tool case; 72 letters from Grace (my great-grandmother) to Ruth at Green Mountain Junior College, handwritten and post-marked 1931-2.
I spent the past year transcribing letters written by a woman I never met-a matriarch in every sense of the word. I felt her words transcend time while learning the nuances of her handwriting from one letter to the next. A certain connectedness happens, like a window between decades. The almost indecent opportunity to be a voyeur between mother and daughter kept me spellbound.
Now here I am. Trying to find my voice.
Before graduating with my masters degree, my brother asked, “What are you going to produce for society with that degree?” I wasn’t sure how to respond at the time, but now?
I am a poet, teacher, historian and writer. I have a responsibility to study and preserve the writings of the day-to-day hopes and fears of a mother from the small town of Thurman, New York only 11 years after the Nineteenth Amendment was added to the U.S. Constitution.
Among the voluminous letters I found a reason to write and I found a voice.
What am I producing for society? I’m giving life to, and preserving, a voice from 86 years ago, long silenced under a workshop bench in a garage in the middle of Georgia. It’s the voice of influence that spans more years than originally intended, and witnessed by an audience never planned. Time to preserve the voices of Grace and Ruth so I can finally find my own.