The Diaries

Five weeks have passed. Spring is gone. Summer is here. The days are long and bright and loud. Christmas is nearly upon us. My poor moleparts are scattered like pollen on the currents of our wild, island winds.

I have come to believe that the writing worlds I create are bounded by a protective crust of ice and require an external dark to bring out the internal light. In the sun and the heat the crust melts and the fragile interior world is bleached into non-existence.

And so these last few weeks I have retired from the constant patrolling of boundaries, the unequal battle between sun and ice, and have inhabited instead a world created by my late mama; a world contained in a little wooden box that contains the tiny leather-bound diaries she kept some seventy years ago.

It is an intimate space. I have to hold the pages close; the diaries are almost lost in my paws, the writing is small, the pencil faint and my mole eyes dim. Our proximity and my concentration remove the distance between me, the reader, and my mama, the author.

We moles hoard all manner of things. We like the material evidence of our lives within touching reach. But what do we expect after we die? I have no hesitation with the goods and chattels left for me by Great Uncle Mole and Uncle Ratty. Their riches live on in my cellar. I’ve always known that my life and theirs were and are inextricably linked. They planted the seeds in the stories they told, in the objects they showed me. It is my task, it seems to me, to pay my respects, nurture that inheritance, make it my own and then evolve and reproduce and disseminate that particular something that is peculiarly Moley.

But I have felt much less sure about my relationship to the letters and diaries left by my mama. She took her own duty as curator of heirlooms very seriously indeed, made sure her offspring were prepared for the baton. But she was reserved and private and there is something different about our written thoughts as compared to, say, a clock, a pair of sugar tongs or a swordstick.

My mama kept diaries, two or three sentences every day, for over sixty years. Her diary-keeping was quite public, two or three sentences every day, at a desk in the living room. The most recent one or two were kept in a desk drawer. Another fifty or so resided at the back of the cupboard beneath it, obscured from curious eyes by an assortment of maps, canasta packs, Scrabble, Snakes & Ladders and Happy Families.

But the very oldest diaries, half the size of the rest, lived in a battered brown attaché case behind the winter eiderdowns on the top shelf of the wardrobe in the spare room. They shared the attaché case with birth certificates, old photographs, passports, Niederlassungsbewilligungen, and a letter or two from her father.

It was both a secret place and yet not, and the diaries – well, I wouldn’t say my mama exactly stroked them when she happened to have the attaché case open on her lap, but she was attached to them in some way that was different to the relationship she had with their younger brethren. My mama singled out these diaries. She was proud of them, as well as secretive.

When do private papers become historic artefacts? Even while she was alive I had the feeling that these older diaries had in transitioned from the one category to the other. Still I felt an initial unease, a fear of being intrusive, that she would be displeased. But now, perhaps it is the passage of time since she died, those barriers have evaporated.

The diaries live on my dining room table. Every time I settle myself to eat or work or draw, there they are in front of me. In this fractious season of festivities and missing those who are absent, the diaries bring me back to my molekin. They sit there, a gift bequeathed to her offspring, a gift of a way of life that ended when I was born.


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