Monday, March 24, 2014

Della's Diary

    No diary exists that is penned in Della's hand.  Yet her words are indelibly marked in her choices, printed in her smile, and inked in the character of her children and grandchildren.

    Della.  All that I had for years was the sound of her name falling off my tongue.  My father, Della's youngest child, would tell of gathering violets for his mother as she lay waiting to deliver another baby.  This seemed to be his only story of her.  Della died in the birthing, as did her baby.  This singular story told wistfully is the last recording in her diary, a footnote to her short life.  She was loved by her children and had fostered the habit of the gift of flowers.  I gather flowers and now Molly gathers flowers to tuck on the dash before long trips.  The flash of color reminds one of home and is a gift for the eyes straying from the gray roadways.   Today baby-blue-eyes grace my car's dashboard, the first tiny flowers of spring from Della's home state, North Carolina.

     Della's father doted on her.  He signed her marriage certificate.  The signing likely came with a pang of regret.  Della was fourteen years old, likely pregnant and eloping with a man her father's age.  Della's diary must have been filled with private contradictory thoughts.  Both her father and her husband were Civil War vets.  They may have known each other during the war.  The relationships were complex.  I don't doubt that Robert, her new husband, the town postmaster, and newly widowed loved her.  I find this penned in two documents.  First is the photo above.  She is older, possibly in her twenties, and Robert has purchased for her a dress of finery and an elegant hat in which to pose for a formal portrait.  She was known to be lovely and the photo shows that.  She looks happy.

     A small town paper article explained that Robert was tired of seeing the same names on mail.  He named his first children those odd names like Y. Tell and Bunk.  When he married Della, her influence on him and his likely loving acquiescence becomes apparent with the names of their children.  Theodore Roosevelt, George Dewey, Patrick Gracey, and Edwin Gray.  The second names inspired by Presidents and possibly chosen by Robert who served under a number of Presidents as postmaster.  The willingness of Robert to compromise and use normal names bespeaks of a relationship of respect and affection. Della's diary would have noted this.

     Della's confident smile and twinkling eyes, her elegant choice of clothes inscribe joy across her diary pages.  Della's smile is that same mischievous smile of my dad, my sister, my daughter, and I.    

I think that Della was likely generous with her smiles – a quality now associated with successful people.  My daughter Molly has such a smile.  The diary would seem to say, "Life was funny again today and it made me smile!"

     This photo of my dad is a new one to me; its existence one of the bounties of this trip.  I love that he has a slingshot and looks so mischievous.  What did he just do exactly?  This photo was taken somewhere in Colorado.  The lack of trees says that it is not North Carolina.

     My dad had two keepsakes from his childhood.  They always puzzled me.  Why would two beautifully made leather button-up toddler shoes unmatched be the only traces of his childhood.  Why shoes?  Researching Della's father turned-up a highly likely explanation.  He was a shoemaker.  He worked at his profession until he was seventy-five years old.  He would have made shoes for the children of his well-loved daughter, Della.  She would have recorded such gifts in her diary.

     Della's photo draws a fashion sense shared by my Aunt Margaret, my sister, and Molly.  I don't seem to have the same dress sense, but when I was in junior high school I took an aptitude test.  The high scores in spatial relations earned me the recommendation to be a fashion designer!  Shift that skill to houses and the skill is the same.  I wonder if Della might not have drawn dress designs in the margins of her diary.

    My grandmother can't whitewash her story of racial prejudice.  Her daughter, Snowdie, would make me (when I was a child) cross the street when a black person approached.  Her son, Theodore, was a member of the invisible empire, the KKK, and her husband fought for the south in the Civil War.  She would have been a product of her time.  My dad moved west and left his prejudice behind.

     Della's diary would have been written in long hand between birthing, nursing, singing, raising children, and being a wife.  Her last entry would have been on her red letter day, the day of her passing.  She would have written her wish for a healthy baby and for a long life seeing her children grow to maturity.  Her last sentence may have been unfinished.



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