A Literary Legacy: A Continued Connection from One Generation to Another
By Nicole Bugnacki
Growing up, I can only remember ever receiving two types of gifts from my paternal grandparents: a book or a guardian angel statue. Which gift I received depended on which grandparent was in charge of the gift. If it was Grandma, I received something related to angels. Grandpa, however, always chose books. Although both gifts have impacted my life, the love of literature has been a connection that has continued to unite me with my grandparents long after they passed away.
I’ve been a reader for as long as I can remember. I used to be a writer too, or at least I desired to be one. However, eight children into my adult life, I feel like that has been lost to me, along with free time and any creative endeavor in which my children can’t participate. This year, in addition to my Well-Read Mom reading, I decided that I want to study and reflect (or journal) on poetry a little more. To make this happen, I added it to my daughter’s homeschool curriculum. As we began the year, I pulled out two blank journals I had on my bookshelf. When we sat to copy our first poem, I opened mine only to have a small folded piece of paper flutter to the floor. My heart stopped. I was instantly transported back in time twenty-three years to my high school graduation and was engulfed in a penned hug from a grandfather who had passed away eighteen years earlier. The journal, you see, was his gift to me for graduation and, with it, a one-page typed letter sharing words that impacted him from a book he had read along with his own inspirational words to me. Miraculously, this unused journal made it through various moves and spring cleanings, and his letter to me also remained neatly tucked in the binding, waiting for the adult me to unpack his pearls of wisdom many years later. I can still picture him, sitting on his deck surrounded by his books and writings, a mug of coffee in his hand, looking out over the lake, reflecting on the beauty surrounding him.
Here is his letter to me:
“Seeking Truth and Beauty in Writing”
By Terry Lynn Taylor
Writing is one of those natural human activities that have been compromised by strict rules, comparisons, criticisms, and fears. Most of us went through schooling to learn to read and write. And most of our learning and assignments required that we write words down on paper. I propose that, regardless of your preconceived notions of what a writer is, you become a writer in your own right. There is a writer in you, because if you think and feel, and talk, then you can write. Writing, like any other craft, gets better and easier the more often you do it. As you get to know yourself better and more fully, your writing will reflect your new depth and wisdom. When you come to the point of accepting yourself and your life—who knows the levels you can reach? The possibilities are endless….
…When something is not truth, or is not you, or is not from your heart, it will not carry the essence of beauty, and therefore will not last in the hearts and minds of humanity. …You must write for the sake of expressing what is deep and true inside of you. Use truth and beauty as guides for your art and allow your passion to grow and motivate you.
When you try to be clever in your writing, or try to be creative or have an interesting “style”, you’ll miss the mark. Trying is not doing, and when you have something to write, you have something to say, so say it and don’t worry about the style or creative twist—that will come naturally. Creative cleverness comes from a higher plane of imagination that can only be reached if you are not trying or spending effort. Creativity happens when you get “flow” happening. Flow happens more readily with practice and doing.
From the introduction to Angel Days c.1995
Journaling differs from writing in a diary primarily in that in journaling, one expresses his feelings, thoughts, and emotions about a situation or sight or experience. In a diary, one merely records such things but does not enlarge upon them. If I had written about the eight planets & moon in alignment in my diary, that would be about all I would say—except for the fact that it was a sight that wouldn’t be seen again for 100 years. My Christmas letter to you this year was a “journaling” of the thoughts that came to mind. Perhaps some day I will put those thoughts in poetic form—if “flow” happens (see above paragraph). For my letter to you, I “got into the flow.” It doesn’t always “happen”, and you can’t turn it on or off. It just comes.
Journaling is a private affair. It is not meant to be shared. It is (eventually) for your own “enlightenment”. It is really more private than a diary.
Terry Taylor hit the nail on the head in the above article “Seeking Truth and Beauty in Writing.” Read those paragraphs over and over. Another great help in putting your thoughts in journal form is your familiarity with the great writer both past and present. Personally, I find poetry the greatest inspiration to thinking.
Try it! You’ll like it!
Amazing how a few words can inspire me to begin to write again and not view the difficulty of doing that with children as an obstacle but rather as an opportunity to build a habit that can create connection. I desire to find reflection and harmony within myself but also to connect with my children and future grandchildren. “Flow happens more readily with practice and doing.”
My grandfather wrote to me all through college. Not the quick how-are-you-doing kind of notes with a $20 bill and a bit of forwarded mail tucked in that I find myself sending my own college child, but rather the slow, thoughtful, reflective kind of letters that seem to be a thing of the past with our now instantaneous communication through emails and text messages. Something in me recognized the treasure that those letters were even in my youth, and I safely saved many of them in an old shoebox on the top shelf of my closet as a buried treasure waiting to be unearthed in the future.
My grandfather was a high school English teacher whose classroom recounting of poetry continues to be the stuff of fond remembrances at reunions to this day. But stories weren’t just a job to him; they were an embodiment of his connection to the people around him. Grandpa loved to read stories, tell stories, share stories, learn other people’s stories, and record historical stories for posterity. When our small local library was closed due to a merge with the library one town over, my grandfather bought boxes and boxes of old hardcover classic children’s novels. They filled a whole bookshelf at the bottom of the stairs in my grandparent’s home. He diligently looked over each treasured tale and lovingly inscribed the name of the intended recipient in each one. I was his second oldest grandchild at the time. I was 5. He had a plan to help his grandchildren love to read and appreciate good writing. He saved those books and added to them over the years, gifting them to us at many celebrations throughout our childhood. His plan bore a lot of fruit over the years.
This past summer, my sister and I were recounting stories from our childhood, particularly our interaction with our grandparents. She fondly remembered my grandfather sitting in his kitchen watching the birds through the window. She told me how cardinals often visit her and how she thinks of them as little letters from my grandparents sending her love from heaven. A cardinal has never visited me. For a moment, I felt that I was missing out on something, but then I started to reflect on all of the ways my grandfather has continued to speak to me throughout the years. I often open a book I’ve forgotten he gifted me and find a small note:
Inside the cover of Man’s Search for Meaning: “This is one of my favorite books—I hope my highlighting doesn’t interfere with your enjoyment. Love, gramps”
Inside the cover of The Dorothy Day Book: “Dear Nicole, a bit of inspirational reading from a woman who had a mission in life just like you. I am excited for you. Gramps and Gram”
Inside the cover of The Princess and the Goblin: his handwriting simply stating my name, “Nicole”.
And inside a journal presented to a high school graduate. “Personally, I find poetry the greatest inspiration to thinking. Try it! You’ll like it! – Gramps”
Though I don’t go searching for the books he gifted me, they seem to find me at just the moment when I need that loving connection to my grandfather or a bit of inspiration. In that instance, he is with me again sharing a story just like he used to and wrapping me up in a warm hug penned inside the cover of a book. My heart is full.
As I wrote this, I was interrupted ten times by my kids asking for a snack (we just finished dinner). The word “mom” was uttered twenty-four times in various degrees of insistence for attention. The dishes didn’t get done, my daughter’s spelling homework didn’t get finished, and I wrote to the background noise of a shop vac and drill as my husband worked on remodeling our kitchen. It is a far cry from the vision I have of my grandpa sitting peacefully on his deck quietly writing his thoughts into his journal, but at least I have begun and hopefully, literary seeds are being planted in my heart and the hearts of my children (after I give them a snack, of course.)
About Well-Read Mom
For our Tenth Anniversary, the reading list put together by Well-Read Mom reflects on the theme of family. In Well-Read Mom we desire to create a place for women, not to escape from family life and work, but to experience a kind of leisure through friendship and literature so that women can return to their lives with a renewed vision and vigor. By reading books together, we help sustain a tradition of reading, which is a gift not only to our families but to the world. We hope you’ll join Well-Read Mom for our Year of the Family. Find out more.