Apparently my grandmother kept a diary. It was brought to my attention last week when a friend, who speaks Russian, was kind enough to look through the documents I have. With her help I have been able to label and sort the various papers. Now I know what I should get translated and what can wait.
Amongst the tub of papers was a thin and old notebook with faintly lined pages. It no longer has a binding and is flaking from old age. Because of the lack of binding, I have to be careful when I open it as the bottom half is no longer held together. Approximately half of the book has been written in my grandmother’s spidery handwriting. Some of it is in ink, but most is in pencil. The first page has the date 1919. The last sentence in the book ends with a question mark.
The photo above is of my grandmother as a young woman pictured with a page of the diary. I think she was beautiful. 1919 was the last year my grandparents were ever on Russian soil. By 1920 they had escaped to Constantinople and then onto France where they eventually found work.
It is said keeping a diary can help one in times of stress. It can reduce anxiety, provide an outlet for emotions and impart a sense of control. Perhaps that is why my grandmother began to write a diary in 1919. It would have been a very stressful year for her. My grandfather was fighting with the White Army during the Russian Revolution and my grandmother spent her days either trying to move closer to him or just keeping herself alive.
Throughout my life I went through stages of keeping a diary. I started writing one in my teens and it was packed with teenage angst and entries about how tough life was. I wrote sporadically for a year or so. I destroyed those diaries many years ago. Since then I have begun and ceased daily writing a number of times. Many of those scribbles have been thrown out or shredded; they could contribute nothing to posterity. I have kept a few of my efforts and, last year, started to journal yet again. That attempt lasted no more than a month.
I am looking forward to getting my grandmother’s diary translated. I hope her handwriting can be deciphered. My hope is that she has written more in this diary than she penned in her book Upheaval, in which she told her story of life in Russia before the turmoil and detailed the years of war and Revolution which followed. Much as Upheaval documented her life to some extent, in my opinion it glossed over many of her experiences. It was written more as a report than as a personal account. And personal is what I am looking for. I want to read about the emotions my grandmother felt at the time; her hopes, dreams and fears. If I am lucky I will find these in her diary.