For Christmas many years ago, my aunt gave me a small flat package wrapped in red foil paper. Inside was a story my grandmother had written for a school assignment back in 1914 when she just 14 years old. My aunt gifted me this treasure because I was the writer in the family, and she often commented that I had inherited Grandma Meachen’s creative genes.
I came upon this handwritten story, held together by a rusty paper clip, in my office a few weeks ago. Reading it again, I was struck by how connected I felt to my grandmother. The story begins on Christmas Eve:
It was a cold, dismal, winter night, the snow fell heavily, and the wind blew fiercely…
The story follows old Mrs. Whitby, who is gazing dreamily, thinking of her son, who had mysteriously disappeared on a Christmas Eve three years before, and her husband, who had died of grief, leaving her sad and alone.
She was startled by a loud rap at the door. When she opened it, it revealed a down-cast, care-worn looking man who appeared as though he had had nothing to eat and not a decent place to sleep for weeks.
She invites this poor man in for a meal. He remains silent and sullen. She brings him some dry clothes, and in a pocket, he finds a watch. Suddenly, his memories flood back–he is her son, and this watch was a gift he had intended to give her all those years before! He tells her his story: On a trip into town that Christmas Eve, he had slipped and fell on a patch of ice, lost his memories and since then…
“I wandered through many cities seeking for work, and with my mind still a blank and almost starved to death, I wandered out into the country and spied your little cottage.”
Mrs. Whitby is overjoyed. The story ends with a valuable lesson: “She never regretted the time when she had invited in a man who she thought was a stranger.”
The story itself is deliciously Victorian in all its moody romanticism—it was written in 1914 after all. But I also marveled at my grandmother’s sophisticated prose at such a young age and her beautiful script. The ink lightened and darkened throughout—an indication that she must have used a pen dipped in an inkwell. I began to wonder…Did the ink stain her fingers? Did she write the story all in one sitting? Or was this the final draft of many? Was she inspired by a particular author? How many other tales had she written?
I’ll never know. But this small story tied me to my grandmother in such a special way. To bridge the past and present, I spent my Christmas Eve this year compiling her story into a chapbook with illustrations. I’m sending it off to my aunt this week.
I also wish I could meet my grandmother’s teacher. On the top of the first page of this story is an A-. What more could she have done to get an A? It seems perfect to me.