The Cepia Club Blog

The Cepia Club Blog: The Cepia Club believes individual awareness and activism can lead to a peaceful and prosperous world. This blog contains the pertinent literature, both creative and non-fiction, produced by the Cepiaclub Director and its associates.

Tuesday, May 02, 2017

Sub Terra Vita Chronicle #46: Words Made of Letters

Sub Terra Vita Chronicle #46: Words Made of Letters
By Tim Krenz
January 25, 2017

In a prized heirloom which I keep well protected, I can read the words written by my maternal grandfather that he wrote to my grandmother before they married and started a family. Beside old pictures in the photo book where I found the letter—including a black and white photo of my Grandpa at my parent's wedding—I have no other way for him to speak to me. I can conjure no memories of him. My grandfather, Victor Michael Kielty, died almost a decade prior to my birth. My Grandmother Evelyn M. Kielty, neè Yonker, lived until almost age 89, passing away just a few months prior to my 30th birthday. I have memories of her, many in fact, as she lived close and played an prominent part in my life.

Once in a while, Granny Kielty, provided me with stories of Grandpa, some funny, some sad, all good. When talking about her long-departed husband, she always looked fondly at her memories while sharing. She wore her wedding ring proudly until her death. I could see in her the love she had for Grandpa Kielty, the love she never lost. With these few contacts with the past, like the letter, the photo(s), and her own reminiscence, I got to somehow know Grandpa Kielty in the only ways possible. The insights gave me the impression of very good, decent and kind man.

In that letter to Grandma Kielty, Grandpa mentioned things about the life he wanted, some hopeful things, and some stern things about what he did not want. He signed the letter, pre-marriage proposal, “Your friend, Victor.” In all the stories, and all the other ways concerning Grandpa Kielty, like his newspaper obituary, I do not trip over the words, but I read into them the place or time he lived. Even more, I try every time to hear his voice, how he thought, the man inside and how he outwardly presented himself. I hear cautious words of a suitor, and the depth of his affection for Granny.

The letter I discovered gave me this “hearing” of him, the first real sense I ever had of him, and can ever have, unless I find more of his letters. Growing up, I always had wished I knew him in my life, even if too young to remember it. If I only had a word or picture of him holding me, I would have enjoyed it. More than for me, I always wished that he and Grandma Kielty would have lived old, for the sake of Granny who always seemed sad at the end of her stories. Grandpa left the world at the age of 52. He died far too young.

In a different lette in the same photo album, I found a letter from my maternal great-grandmother, Katherine Yonker, neè Yiddake, to my Grandmother Evelyn. I reach further back into the history of my maternal family, to before the birth of my own mother. I know that Great-grandma Katherine died a long, long time ago before 1940, and the circumstances of her death remain a mystery, speculation notwithstanding. I may have never known her, if not for a letter.

I don't remember Great-grandpa Yonker, Katherine's husband and my Granny's father, but I know from stories that I attended his funeral when very young in the early 1970s. He died in old age, and had lived as a widower. I have an heirloom from him, however: an old ring, a beautiful whitish agate on a sterling band. I found no letters from him, but I have the ring. Yet, somehow, I understand part of his life. In Great-grandma Katherine's letter, I hear that ghost-like voice, one of a sad woman, depressive even. The family lore I hear confirms that she lived a very, very sad life before dying awfully young.

In the photo album of my mother's family, I recognize some of the great-aunts and great uncles, and more recent relations when full of youth and exuberance. I can also see that many relations now living share similar looks and features of our ancestors. Not myself in that album, because I look like my father's side of the family.

I can touch and smell the ancientness of the frail paper on which my heritage wrote their letters. I can smell the chemical decay of the photos, too, as they fragment away in the thick, black paper of the album. I have memory now of those I did not know, because I could read their words and sense their time, by sight, by touch and by smell. The pictures survive, too, though the photos disordered and got loose in the book, by the age of the glue worn away. Like photos and letters, we survivors of our ancestors, on both sides of my family, begin the long journey to brittleness and fragility by age and living.

The letters, especially, I have something that both excites the sense of history, and daunts the passing of our time. In the relics, I can touch them in the careful way to avoid damaging them. I feel the threads of the note paper, unmarking themselves by time of the now faint colored blue and red lines. The pencil and pen scripts erode. In them, I have the authentic history, that historians cherish in their research, of a primary document created by those people important for me to define present things. I actually can touch the paper held by my Grandfather. That gave me more reality and closeness to him than I ever knew before I found his words and his voice. In touching the letter, I create the shape of the room where he wrote. I see the lantern giving him light to write. I see the desk. The person blind to my actual memory comes alive.

The photos give me a different sense. The black and white smoothness speaks the words that I cannot express. Images of them give me the image of their minds. Drying their sweat in soiled work clothes, lunching from pails in the shade of the house during fall harvest on the plains of southern Minnesota and northern Iowa.. My Grandpa Kielty met my Granny Kielty while harvesting with a crew one season on Grandpa Yonkers farm. I pretend to see that moment of spark.

I touch that history, that identity of the Kielty family, their heritage that I do not know by personal experience in the Great Depression, but that I see in their faces. I hold the moment that my grandparents beheld, even if I cannot see what they looked upon. But even that picture gives me words in my thoughts of their home and hearth, their land and their work. Holding these letters and pictures, I behold them.

Regardless of what others think, I need these things to understand better, allowing me to comprehend my present better, and help point me in the direction of my future. I cannot covet the letters and the photos on a computer, which digitizing may preserve them for an historian and journalist (like myself), but having them and holding them mean so much more to my spirit. I have to forget the intellect, the ingenuity, the very technology that runs the work and the social world. I have to create these persons from real fragments.

I cannot hold something an ancestor held in their hands through any number of computer pixels in order to bond with my heritage. For most of my life, I could feel the absence in my heart of those people I never knew. In touching their affects, I found a contact with that side of my family, and that itself fulfilled a missing part of my spirit. I could never have asked for more, when all technology fails, than for touching an accidental discovery to surprise my sense of heritage.