Enjoying life, off the hamster wheel
It is 1916. My Grandmother is ten years old. She is attending the National Normal School for Girls in Sweden. She’s required to take a notebook home with her every Saturday, in which her parents will note her absence from school, and then on Monday morning she is to return it to the school. She presses a flower in the first pages of the book, and there they stay for almost 100 years where they will be found by her grand-daughter.
Her mother dutifully signs her signature in the requisite column, writing in clear, fluid penmanship, her steal nib pen gently scratching across the surface of the page leaving its inky black fluid behind. On the preceding columns she writes the year, followed by the dates all in lower case: sept. 9….. okt. 6…. The years roll on.
There are others who sign in the column… 1917, jan. 27, E. Eriksson places a signature, then again the following week. The grand-daughter in the future imagines that E. Eriksson was looking after her grandmother and 2 sisters while their mother, a nurse who traveled by horse and carriage to patients in the municipality they lived in, may have been delivering a baby, or caring for the sick, traveling long days in the bitter Swedish winter and working long hours.
The years continue to roll on. Some days there is no signature. Was the book left behind? Was there no one home to sign it?
1918, sept. 28, the young girl’s father signs. Why now? Why almost two years after the book was started? Did he travel in his position with the postal service? Did his work take him away from home?
One year dissolves into the next. 1919, mars. 3… Olga Karlsson. Then again on the 8th. Then two weeks without a signature. Then Olga Karlsson signs again on the 22nd. The mother resumes the following week. On nov. 15 Olga has changed the spelling of her last name. It now begins with a “C”. Carlsson. In 1920, mars. 6, Olga is spelling it again with a “K.” Are there two Olgas? Or is Olga a trickster, or simply unclear of the spelling of her own name? The grand-daughter in the future likes this Olga Karlsson, or Carlsson. She finds this person, or persons, funny.
By 1921, a new signature emerges, indecipherable except for the last name, the same as the little girl’s. This person doesn’t know that almost a hundred years later, the grand-daughter will wonder if it is the same person who owned a beautiful silver cigarette case she now possesses. Or could it be “the gentle and nice Ester” as written in a short family chronicle by her great-aunt? Ester lived with the family and helped look after the young girls for six years.
The father’s signature appears more frequently after February 1, 1921, but the mother’s signature is the one that figures the most throughout the year.
October 22 is last time the mother wrote in the child’s book. She dies on November 19, 1921.
The child continues to go to school. The father signs on November 12 and uses ditto marks for the rest of the year. The grand-daughter, living in another time and place, knowing loss, thinks of the deep bereavement he must have felt. And the confusion and sadness as the girl and her two sisters carried on, day after day, adjusting to the deep absence and sorrow over the loss of their mother.
The years roll on. The child continues to go to school. The father dutifully signs his signature in the requisite column, writing in a sharp, hurried penmanship, his steal nib pen scratches across the surface of the page leaving its inky black fluid behind. On the preceding columns he writes the year, followed by the dates: 1922, Sept. 2….. Okt. 6…. Dec. 9. He capitalizes the months where the mother did not. The indecipherable signature returns.
A different signature with flourished strokes jumps off the page on Dec. 16. Rab. J. Eriksson. Rob? Was this the father of the child Ester would eventually have? Was he any relation to the E. Eriksson of 1917?
The pages turn, 1922 turns into 1923. More signatures, more blank spaces. 1923 turns into 1924. The father’s signatures appear hurried. An Ericsson from an earlier entry drops an “s.”
The last signature is made 1924, Maj. 24. Maj. 30 is blank. There are no other dates after this, but there is an accounting section at the back of the book. The columns are: year and date; writing books, sketch books, dictionaries, nib pens, black lead pens, rubber erasers, blotting paper, handicrafts, miscellaneous; Kronor; guardian’s signature.
From 1916 until 1920, the girl’s mother dutifully records items, amounts, dates and signs them with her clean penmanship. The father makes an occasional entry. In 1921, only one entry was made. The father signed. It was Dec. 10.
In 1922, seven entries and five signatures are made, the last one, Maj 20. All of them are the father’s.
The rest of the page is blank. Blank pages follow. School is over. The short Scandinavian summer begins.
And a life continues, evolves, multiplies, transforms. Stories are passed on, distorted and half-remembered. Artifacts are found, new stories created. Cause and effect lie hidden in the fabric of a person, passed on from one generation to the next.
An endless passing on of something – oblique, mysterious, undetected, at times known – it is passed on, as if written in the pages of a notebook, lost, found, reinterpreted.
Scratched across a long, continuous scroll, Life’s pen leaves its inky traces, reducing the self until all that’s left is beautiful residue.