I’ve inherited a notebook from my great-grandmother. It’s full of loose-tucked notes, scribbled on scraps and receipts. My great-grandmother was a writer; she wrote a book for children about growing up on the prairie, and a column for a women’s magazine about being a Kansan transplant in New York. My grandmother has kept this journal for me because I am the next writer in the family. It’s full of half-formed thoughts: a description of a brush fire in August, a sketch of trees moving in the wind. The dark tornado cellar gets a few notes. I try to picture her down there, breathing in the cave-like quiet with her family. The great flat wind-blasted earth above them, a landscape I’ve never seen, strange as the moon. The fear of that waiting space, of burying yourself in a tomb just to stay alive in a hostile time and place.
In one note she writes of riding home in the buggy with her parents during a lightning storm. When thunder rolls above their heads, her father yells to her mother to get out of her metal hoopskirts. She strips as fast as she can. They ride home with the sky threatening. I picture lightning jumping up into her clothes.
My great-grandmother wrote a second book about her life, a sequel to her childhood memoir. My mother and grandmother found it when they were going through her papers. It was in a sealed envelope with a note attached: BURN THIS MS. DO NOT READ.
They obeyed. I want to reach my fingers back through time to that moment and steal the book away from these obedient daughters. I want to know what my great-grandmother thought wasn’t good enough. I wasn’t born yet when she died, and now her notebook is mine, all the fragments of her life that she cared to keep. They’re just like the pieces I use to assemble my stories. I tell myself, I would not burn that book. I would read it. I tell myself, her thoughts are like people huddled in tornado cellars, afraid to come out.