Years ago, when my somewhat newlywed sister and brother-in-law were looking to buy their first house, they agreed to purchase a house with all of its contents. Turns out, the elderly woman who had lived there recently died and her son decided to unload everything in one fell-swoop. It was a treasure trove of furniture, kitchenware, jewelry and all manner of odds & ends.
While helping my sister clean out and sort through what we came to affectionately refer to as Dead Woman's House, we came upon a manuscript, way up in a closet. Both of us felt like we'd hit the jackpot. Was it a novel? A diary? What secrets could we find out about Dead Woman? Our minds wandered, and we both came to our senses and decided the right thing to do would be to return the manuscript to the son.
I was reminded of Dead Woman's Manuscript while reading through Regina's Closet: Finding My Grandmother's Secret Journal by Diana M. Raab (Beaufort Books, 166 pages, $23)...
Raab was very close to her grandmother, who lived with her family and taught her things her parents were too busy (working) to teach her, like how to type on an old Remington typewriter. When Raab was 10 years old, she discovered her beloved grandmother dead. Shortly thereafter she learned that her grandmother took her own life. It wasn't until 30+ years later that Raab was able to understand why.
When Raab was in her early 40s, a married mother of three, her own mother nonchalantly handed over a plastic bag with some papers in it. It was Raab's grandmother's journal, which detailed her turbulent childhood years growing up during World War I in Kalush, Galicia, which was a part of Poland occupied by the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
The journal gave Raab not only a close-up look at her grandmother's life, but also a sense of her roots that many of will go a lifetime never knowing. For the reader, Raab's reflection on what she discovers about herself and her family is a touching look at how history shapes us, whether we're aware of it or not.