Tags: breast cancer, Diana M. Raab, Guest Post, journaling, Regina's Closet, suicide
It is with great pleasure that I announce The Literate Housewife Review’s very first guest post by Diana M. Raab, the author of Regina’s Closet: Finding My Grandmother’s Secret Journal. I hope that you enjoy her reflections on her grandmother and how she encouraged the young writer in Diana:
At the age of ten years I found my grandmother dead in her room next to mine. On that sunny summer morning I knocked on her door to ask permission to swim in a friend’s pool. I called her name, but she lay in her bed beside the window, remaining perfectly still. On her stomach sat an opened Graham Greene book and a pair of eyeglasses. I touched her face and it was stone cold. With a child’s intuition, I sensed something was seriously wrong. I ran out of the room to phone my mother at work.
Within minutes, emergency vehicles lined our once quiet residential street. All I remember is two uniformed men carrying my grandmother down the creaky wooden stairs strapped to a stretcher. I prayed they wouldn’t drop her.
There wasn’t much talk about my grandmother until about twenty years later when my parents were getting reading to move from that childhood house in Queens, New York. While packing, they stumbled across her retrospective journal which she’d written after emigrating from Vienna in the early 1930s. Only after reading that document did I really understand the deep roots of her depression, which tormented her entire life, and eventually led to her demise at the age of sixty-one.
I tucked the journal away and pulled it out ten years later after being diagnosed with breast cancer. I wondered if she’d committed suicide because of a cancer diagnosis which she’d kept to herself. I hoped her written words could provide an explanation for my own health problems, but they didn’t. However, the details of her tragic life once again drew me close to her. Her powerful words sharing her being orphaned during World War I, just pulled me in. She witnessed the Russians hack up little boys in the street and soldiers march through her town.
I realized how I’d never connected with another woman in the same way. She was an extension of me. Those ten years she’d care for me, planted the seed for my writing, because not only was she devoted to the written word by daily journaling and propensity for leaving notes on the kitchen table, but she had also taught me how to type. I remember the day as if it were yesterday.
Her black Remington typewriter was perched on the vanity in her room. Each morning, I knocked on her door for a morning kiss. She then took my hand and we’d walk down to the kitchen for breakfast. One morning when I was about six years old, instead of immediately heading downstairs, she invited me into her room.
“Have a seat,” she said,” pointing me to her vanity chair.
“I’m going to teach you how to type. This is a handy skill for a girl to have, plus you never know what kind of stories you’ll have to tell one day.”
She stood behind me with her image glowing in the mirror. She took my right hand and positioned it on the second row of keys from the bottom, carefully placing one finger on each letter, repeating the same gesture with my left hand.
“This is the position your fingers should be in. When you become a good typist, you won’t have to even look at the letters while you’re typing. Okay, dear, let’s see if we can type your name.”
With my left middle finger she had me press on the “D.” Then we moved to the right middle finger and moved up a row to type an “I.” Then my pinky pressed the “A” and then something really tricky had to happen, I had to move my right thumb down to the bottom row to type an “N.” Then my left pinky typed an “A.” After each letter I glanced up at the paper to see the impression of my efforts. After reaching the last “A” in my name, I proudly looked up at my grandmother’s face in the mirror.
“You see, you did it!” she said, squeezing my shoulders.
“Like anything in life, the more you practice, the better you’ll become. You must work hard to get results; you’ll learn that soon enough, my love.”
This seemingly innocent gesture on her part instilled my own lifelong commitment to the written word. As a young girl, I wrote stories, but as a young adult, I worked my way through college typing term papers for students.
Finding the journal was my impetus in writing write my memoir released in September 2007, Regina’s Closet: Finding My Grandmother’s Secret Journal. The project which began as my graduate thesis made me me realize the strong connection I had with my grandmother. It also made me realize how depression is a precurrsor to suicide and the intrinsic value of writing and how important it is for one generation to pass on their stories to the next generation. As a result, I have become a journaling advocate to those in my community and beyond.