June is often thought of as the beginning of summer. For some reason, I’ve always used the beginning of new seasons as a time for reflection. As a child, June marked for me the end of school and the start of summer fun, whether it was summer camp or going on family trips.
As I sit writing this, hummingbirds tweet outside my writing studio. They are messengers from the heavens. Hummingbirds make me think of my grandmother who died when I was 10. I didn’t realize it at the time, but that event has very much affected the person I am today – one who has gratitude for life and all that it has to offer.
We’ve all had life-changing moments or received gifts that have forever changed us, but sometimes it’s many years later that we realize their powerful effects. Because I am a memoirist, I often write about special moments in my life and wonder about their impact.
These special moments may be turning points or impactful events that are difficult to forget. They might be situations which were springboards for something larger that happened in our lives. Two particular life-changing events inspired my passion for writing.
I was 10 years old when my grandmother committed suicide. A few years before she died, she taught me how to type on the black Remington typewriter which was perched on the vanity in her room.
Each morning, I knocked on her door for a morning kiss. She then took my hand, and we’d walk down to the kitchen for breakfast. One morning, when I was about six years old, instead of immediately heading downstairs she invited me into her room.
She pointed me to her vanity chair. “Have a seat,” she said. “I’m going to teach you how to type. This is a handy skill for a girl to have, plus, you never know what kind of stories you’ll want to tell one day.”
She stood behind me with her reflection glowing in the mirror. She took my right hand and positioned it on the second row of keys from the bottom, carefully placing one finger on each letter.
She repeated the same gesture with my left hand. “This is the position your fingers should be in. When you become a good typist, you won’t even have to look at the letters while you’re typing.”
My grandmother was always patient while I was learning. “Okay, dear, let’s see if we can type your name.” With my left middle finger she had me press the “D” key. Then we moved to the right middle finger and moved up a row to type an “I.”
Then my pinky pressed the “A” and then something really tricky had to happen – I had to move my right thumb down to the bottom row to type an “N.” Then my left pinky typed an “A.”
After each letter, I glanced up at the paper to see the impression of my efforts. After reaching the last “A,” I proudly looked up at my grandmother’s face in the mirror.
“You see, you did it!” she said, squeezing my shoulders. “Like anything in life, the more you practice, the better you’ll become. You must work hard to get results; you’ll learn that soon enough, my love.”
This seemingly trivial gesture on her part instilled my own lifelong commitment to the written word. I still have a replica of my grandmother’s typewriter, and it is a continuous reminder of the love for words she imprinted onto me. Despite losing her at that young age, she still left me with a lifelong gift: an abiding love for the written word.
The next life-changing event happened 20 years later. As my parents were getting ready to move from my childhood home, they found in my grandmother’s closet her journal she’d written after emigrating from Vienna in the early 1930s.
Only after reading that document did I really understand the deep roots of her depression, which tormented her entire life and eventually led to her suicide at the age of 61.
I tucked the journal away, but pulled it out years later when I was diagnosed with breast cancer. The details of her tragic life drew me close to her and distracted me from my own struggles. In particular, I was pulled in by her powerful words about being orphaned during World War I. She watched soldiers march through her town and kill young children playing in the streets.
I realized that I’ve never connected with another woman in the same way I connected with my grandmother. I was an extension of her. Those 10 years she’d cared for me, planted the seeds for my writing, and interestingly enough, she taught me how to type. I remember the day as if it were yesterday.
To honor my grandmother, I wrote a memoir about our relationship called Regina’s Closet: Finding My Grandmother’s Secret Journal. The book is now out of print, but you can still obtain a copy for a discounted rate. If you are interested, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
What life-changing events have shaped your life? In what way have they affected you? Do you think you would have been a different person now if those events hadn’t taken place?