After Mom and Dad died my brother and I teamed up to sort through the years of memorabilia and divide the mementos. Sam and I never argued much growing up. At this juncture in our lives, when choices meant a whole lot more, we didn’t argue either. Our conversations went something like this, “Sam, look at this, you want it?”
“Doesn’t matter to me.”
“Okay, I’ll take it.”
“Hey, Sam, I’d really like to have this thingy.”
Our only disagreements were over things we thought the other might like to have.
“Sam, I think you should take this.”
“No, you go ahead.”
“No, you take it.”
“No, you ought to have that.”
“Are you sure.”
One of the things I wanted for myself was my Grandpa’s notebook. I was fascinated by my Grandpa Sawyer. I still am. He was a leading businessman in our small Iowa town and the vice president of the company he worked for. The owner relied so much on my grandpa that the owner wouldn’t spend a nickel or make any company decisions without grandpa’s okay. Grandpa’s business acumen was one of his most salient qualities.
Another of his salient qualities was his ability to write–not just with his polished prose, but with the best penmanship I have ever seen, from a man or woman. We learned cursive writing back then. Grandpa wrote most of his poetry and some of his personal letters in cursive. Cursive, now there’s a word I’ll bet this generation and their parents don’t have in their vocabulary. His handwriting looked better than some script fonts I’ve seen. His penmanship looked quite similar to the original handwritten Bill of Rights and the Constitution. It was that good.
My Grandpa was also a prolific writer. He wrote lots of letters and original poetry. My dad and Uncle John both served full four-year terms in the military, Dad in World War II and John in Korea. My grandpa wrote each one of them a personal letter every single day they were in the service. He typed some of them and some of them he wrote in his beautiful hand. None of them were just short notes. Each was at least a page in length. My Uncle John still has his collection in four binders, one for each year, displayed in his bookcase. One day I’ll get them. My brother and I have already agreed on that.
But, back to the notebook.
Grandpa Sawyer liked poetry. Rudyard Kipling was one of his favorites, but he wrote poetry as well. The sample page from Grandpa’s notebook is an original poem he wrote about his neighbor’s house.
My neighbor’s house stands next to mine
and peeks at me through shrub and vine;
A large elm sheds its welcome shade
Along the path our feet have made
In going to and fro to see
That all is well with him and me.
No fence or wall you’ll ever see
Between my neighbor’s house and me;
His tulips, iris, and roses red
Are mine; his is my peony bed,
And all things else of this and that
We shared each day in friendly chat.
My neighbor’s house is large and sleek
While now and then my roof might leak;
But friendship counts not wealth or power
We’ve kindred souls like shrub and flower,
And so we live, as neighbors should
Walk down life’s path – and all is good.
The last entry in Grandpa’s notebook goes like this . . .
Each has 24 hours in the day to do with what he wishes, none more, none less.
Each has 26 letters in the alphabet to form the written or spoken word to communicate with his fellows, none more, none less.
Each has 10 digits with which to measure the value of his tangible assets or his services, none more, none less.
Each has but 3 primary colors with which to appreciate the beauties of nature or paint his masterpiece, none more, none less.
Each has but 12 notes in the musical scale with which to express himself in song, none more, none less.
I don’t know if he finished writing this entry or not. The rest of the notebook has about a dozen blank pages. Of course, I will preserve their blankity. What else would I do? Write on them? What? Mar this pristine reader, this magnificently preserved piece of a man whose legacy I hold in my hand? A man I loved and admired? Who wrote with such unmatched, beautiful penmanship? I would sooner throw myself in front of a raging Amtrak train. Well, maybe a slowly moving bus. With a flat.
The reason Grandpa’s notebook is so magnificently preserved is because everything he touched was orderly and well-kept. I never saw a scrap of paper on his desk, at his office or in his home. I never saw anyone ask him to borrow or use anything that Grandpa couldn’t walk right to or tell us exactly where to find it.
Grandpa knew where everything was in his notebook as well. He made little tabs for each section and taped them to the pages. Of course the tabs were perfectly spaced and written in all caps. You can still read the tabs easily, but the tape is now a brittle, light brown. The pages have yellowed considerably in Grandpa’s more than 50-year-old notebook.
My goal is to preserve it in its current condition for the next 50 years, keep it close and refer to it often, then eventually pass it on to my children. Now, though, I like to thumb through the tabs and stop on one of Kipling’s poems Grandpa copied perfectly, or read one of Grandpa’s own poems again.