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  • Lance Mannion
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Leah A

What a wonderful gift to give your readers. Thank-you.

A diary like that is like time travel. The more I read the entries, the more they began to sound like a poem by Wm Carlos Williams, a poet of the here and now moment that becomes forever. Wonderful to have that kind of document from two generations ago, Or is it three?

My father was an artist, an animator, and as such he was laid off at least once, sometimes twice a year. I'd always know it had happened when coming home from school I'd see his car already parked at home. I knew it meant we'd have to be extra careful with money, although my working mother's job brought in a steadfast income, but I couldn't suppress a tiny spurt of pleasure, because that parked car meant more time with my father, including going with him to pick up his unemployment check, which he always managed to make into an adventure in camaraderie; half the people there were always from the film industry.

I only knew one of my grandparents, my mother's mother. Both my parents lost one of their parents in childhood. My mother was the diarist in the family; her own extended family, originally from Russia, was huge, and she'd mastered all the history from the Ukraine to who emigrated to where. And those who didn't and were lost. Unfortunately, although she was brilliant and hugely energetic, she was also disorganized, so her diaries and research were spread through multiple notebooks of varying size and type, often stuffed with bits of papers, with thoughts written on napkins. As she descended into dementia, she insisted on organizing them, only managing to make them entirely chaotic. Eventually I threw everything into a box and put it away in a closet, on a high shelf. I haven't looked at it since her death.

You've inspired me to open that box at last.

Lance, don't you think that one of the hopeful aspects of the internet is the way that vast amounts of personal history, grassroots history, will now be available to the future, and not just future historians?

I clicked on the topic to which this post belongs, "Mining the notebooks," and I take it that those other lovely posts I'm looking at come from your own notebooks, if I'm correct?

Something I meant to leave in my comment on your Emerson post - how perfect was its title, "Local Authors," wonderfully Emersonian, with that twist of lemon New Englannd wit.


love that. really love that. Something comes through nevertheless doesn't it? On the final one there is just enough to contrast with the daily entries to convey some excitement and get a sense of the man behind it---what made him really happy.

thanks, sometimes it is really nice to just get a slice of real life that is gracious and decent. You know, the sort of people who populate this country and who aren't on cable 24/7 insisting you listen to their personal business or digging around in someone else's.

very nice. thanks for sharing your g-g-grandfather.

Shakespeare's Sister

My grandfather was a strange and wonderful man. A New York City detective, he hated his gun and looked like a beatnik; I remember him in his standard black turtleneck and gray goatee, drawing on a cigarette, looking for all the world like he was about to recite Ginsberg and not remotely like anyone who could intimidate a hardened criminal.

He never learned to drive a car, as there was no need, and he walked about 20 miles a day; he favored strolling through cemetaries, and he could hop right over a parking meter as if he were made of springs. (His father had been a Vaudevillian contortionist, which is undoubtedly from whence this magical ability came.)

When he died, quite young, far too soon, we went through all his papers, poured over the letters to my grandmother during his service in the Coast Guard, the cartoons mocking Nixon, Kissinger, and other public miscreants he'd drawn, the tiny book of punchlines he kept in his wallet - the jokes to all of which he always remembered - and his stack of small ringed notepads, in which he'd logged every penny he'd ever spent since reaching adulthood, carefully dated - one for each year. He'd never kept a journal, but any day of his life could be experienced, from his morning trip to the corner shop, to his decision to hop the bus instead of walking the last 10 blocks at the end of a long day. Every gallon of milk, every pack of cigarettes, every silly thing he'd bought to make my grandmother laugh, from rubber noses to size 15 sneakers, was meticulously recorded, even the airfares for when they came to see us.

We each kept one. Mine is from the year I was born. "Baby Lissa to the zoo - popsicles. $3."


Wow! This was so stirring...touching.

Exiled in NJ

So much lurks between those lines of the diary. Washington Park is still there. I wonder if they held the tulip festival that year, and I wonder if William had any inkling of the hideous plans a future governer/VP/ladies man had for Albany? Did you ever think that maybe William was a character left out of a William Kennedy book?

My father kept a ledger book that I found after he died. In it he wrote every bank deposit and every check written from May 1950 through 1991, two years before he died. Like William's cryptic writings, there is no comment for any of the entries. He writes his check for the electric bill with the same scraggly hand as the payments for my mother's trips to the 'rest home' to treat her schizophrenia. There is no celebration evident when that ninth grade graduate of South Philadelphia High School sends checks to pay for his sons' college tuition. Only when the work can be seen in its entirety, forty years of checks to Philadelphia Electric and Suburban Water, can I form some picture of the man.

I lied earlier; the ledger ran out of pages in the eighties, so he switched to one of those black composition books every Catholic school student carried. I suspect ledgers were no longer manufactured, but I don't recall him asking me if I'd seen one in stores. By then I was his confidant, his beloved Jessie only a memory.

Thank you so much for the treat you presented us this morning, and every morning.


The guys I miss knowing are my great-uncles - my Dad's father's brothers, who seem to have ripped a vein of hellfire though Idaho around the turn of the last century. One owned a saloon cum brothel in Coeur d'Alene, and was shot in some kind of bar fight. Another had one of the first cars in the state, took to hot-rodding and went over a cliff. There were a couple of others - clever, risk-taking, probably a bit nuts. I think when my Dad was born, my grandfather was the only one left, and it made him not so much timid as overly cautious and suspicious of life. Or maybe it was the lovely - and high-schooled - widow from Missouri who became my grandmother who reined him in. He died at 86, and it took a good deal to bring him down.
My other grandmother told me about escaping an oppressive household (and a hated stepfather) to run off to Birmingham, Alabama to become a telephone operator - and her joy at the freedom she had there. This was 1910, and she was 18. She loved to read Dickens. That may account for her falling for my rascally grandfather (a railroad man), and a long, punctuated journey West, where they lived when I was born. For all my Grandad's schemes and Big Ideas and shoring-up operations (which must have been hell for her), they were devoted through very long lives.

Thanks for the memory jog, Lance.


It's remarkably similar to my father-in-law's "diary" which we discovered a few years ago.
Brief excerpts are all you get of anything. When a feeling comes through, you notice it -- it's so rare.

I'm glad we live in a time where men don't feel so freaked about displaying what they're feeling.

mrs. norman maine

Lovely, lovely -- the diary and your speculative filling in of the blanks. The Lake George entry is poetry on its own, I agree, but the June 4 entry is suggestive of a day out of a Fellini flick.

I wonder if the sewer water made the lemonade red?

mrs. norman maine

Can't resist adding, after looking again at all those one-line graphs in your grand-father's notebook, that the apple sure hasn't fallen far from the tree.


3rd of June
Another sleepy, dusty Delta day.
Pa out bailing hay.

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