Would you like it if, when you were a girl, the older women in your family wrote a little book of hints and tips for life and gave it to you? Well, that is what my family is now doing for our youngest cousin/niece. It is an adventure in writing for all of us, the idea created by my writer sister. My sister wanted to give something that would last to the niece’s she enjoyed so much, as balance to her own four boys. She wrote what she called an Empty Book, or Nothing Book, for my daughter when she turned 12 in 1986. My daughter was instructed to buy the next empty book, empty, for the next girl, who was her cousin. My sister filled the book and gifted it. That cousin bought the book for the next in line, it got filled and so on. My sister passed away the October after she wrote the fourth book. There were two more girls to go.
The family encouraged me to organize the project to keep it going and I did so. Together we women relatives wrote the 5th Empty Book in 2005. That cousin got her Empty Book and has purchased the new book for the 6th and last book. Next year my young grand niece turns 12. We have a year to do the writing.
My sister’s journals and letters are a source of material for what I put in the empty book. Our version includes pithy sayings, a little advice, some silly jokes and stories, tales of our family she should know and love, pictures of the rest of us at 12, what we liked at that age, on and on. Since the now 11 year old impending recipient lives in a very different world than even the younger cousins, I want to stay close to the origins of the project, yet write in a timely way. We want to have the book honor the vision of my sister who, with her journals, newspaper columns and newsletters, inspired so many women to be brave and daring and gentle and thoughtful and fun loving. Reading through her stories of humor and social comment and rural life and family tales I go back to those years we all lived, larger than life as it’s said, in her stories. My, the descriptions were fun! Full of the best or funniest events, always with passion and wisdom, the writing is still usually timeless.
Tonight I chanced upon the story of a time I hold closely in my heart and often think of when I am missing my sister. She described how one time I visited her when I was ill—with a non-communicable ailment that had me very low in spirit.
“….she came here to the farm and I made her an old fashioned pot roast, with carrots and potatoes and onions. I didn’t eat beef usually, but it felt like the right medicine. I made her bed with sweet sun-dried sheets because I love them so much—and she has never forgotten. She mentions it, time to time. Once in a while I wonder: if all of us women made soup or pot roast or chocolate chip cookies for each other, and massaged the backs of our necks, right where it’s tense…would the world’s cruelty be healed? Would men, as well as women, gather wisdom from our growing strength, and be healed too? My sister nurtures me continually. She sends me articles she knows will be of interest, and goes around telling people I’m special and gives me great gifts, like Magic Mikes and when only a few local people showed up for the party, she drove 230 miles to be here. We women can care for each other when we are sick…..and show up on each other’s doorsteps with pots of soup and bright smiles. ‘You look so cute, honey…’ “ 1995
I can still taste that pot roast, smell its heavenly aroma, marvel at her love and attention, sun-dried sheets and all. Having a writer sister was always a pleasure. I guess we were a mutual admiration society and I always peeked ahead in her newsletters first to see if she talked about me to the world. Then I started back at the cover and devoured her ideas, word by word. Now I cherish these old stories and smile to think our lives are in print for us to enjoy forever. She tantalizes me still.
I regularly swing from acceptance to sorrow to irritation, 5 years after she died. I suppose it will always be a little like that, despite all my efforts to stay “timely” and let her go. The Empty Book project brings it all back again, and I can marvel at her ability to stay with me in this way, and this way she had of gifting her ideas and spirit and love to her descendants.
We women will put in our 6th Empty Book the imprints of our minds as they are this year. And our young cousin/niece will have them to keep as a cherished possession, just like the other cousins treasure their gifts from our gone missing, but with us in print, writer.