Lately I've been going through some old family papers. There was a time, not so long ago, where I worked full-time as a professional archivist. Since then I've kept my hand in with some side projects, and this is the latest one. As with any project involving personal or family papers, there are easier parts (like sorting letters) and then there are the perplexities - in this case, my grandmother's writing.
My paternal grandmother was born in Salina, Utah (how many of you reading this have heard of it?) and had an expansive and curious mind. She wrote poetry, drew and painted, as her time allowed while raising children and keeping house, and when her children were grown she went back to school, where she planned on writing a Master's thesis on the history of her hometown. She never finished it, but she left a quantity of handwritten notes and drafts, including many typewritten pages with corrections and revisions. Working with all this has reminded me forcefully of a collection I worked with in my former archives job: the manuscripts and research notes of another woman who had attempted to write a history of her hometown and left it unfinished at her death.
I wrote about it on another blog I maintained at the time, commenting on the tendencies I saw in her methods and the affinities I saw with my own. My grandmother left behind much fewer notes and drafts - at least, much less material has come to me - but working with them is of course much more interesting to me. I recognize in myself a wish that she showed to address a wide range of questions within the scope of what might seem a discreetly-defined subject. Her research into her hometown's history seems to have swung wide to accommodate various reflections on sociology, economy and theology - not surprising, really, when you consider Salina's history as a Mormon Pioneer town.
I think that the work my grandmother left undone was motivated by either the same spirit or a similar one to what has been working in me for several years. In my case, I'm attempting to express my ideas in fiction, and while I don't know how early on my grandmother began her work, I think of my age and my life responsibilities, and I don't want to let the rest of my life go by without finishing. Maybe this can be one more motivator for me: to finish this for her sake as well as everything else.