Spaceless

“DamnforgottogetmilkohwellguessIcanusecream”, his journal begins before filling the page. In 10 pt. courier font, single space it continues, “havetodothewashoutofsocks”. From line to line, the subject changes, often without punctuation and without spaces – all a blend of to-do lists and a stream of consciousness, often at the same time. And it all comes from the desk of Ken.

It started around the time Elena’s journal started. Unable to read as his eyesight failed, my mother would read weekly journals from our experiences with Elena in Memphis to my grandfather back home. It was our way of communication, much simpler than telephone chains and more composed than the emotional roller coaster we felt. In so many ways it also became more. And just as we reconciled our feelings and established a legacy for Elena, my grandfather decided to establish his own right there at his kitchen table and a 40-year-old typewriter from the basement.

Today that legacy continues. At first it was deliberate and planned. He told of visits from family, news of the day or even the weather. In time he would start to write grocery lists, fights with the squirrels that raided his handmade birdfeeders and even of “that Jenny” (the obvious favorite of his children) as she performed the latest heroic act of taking him shopping at the local close-out store. The spacebar didn’t work, the shift bar sometimes stuck (leaving the occasional CAPITAL LettER) and the enter key skipped a line if he pressed too hard, but the journals continued. Corrections initially made with a strong XXXXXXX strikeout in time became pointless and the errors remained, giving his journals a human-like quality with the errors offering grace to his observations, even occasionally highlighted when he would comment “damnmisspelleditagain” or with a “hahahahaha”. But in the end, it came to be a journal we would appreciate and beg to read each Sunday as we joined him for dinner.

I doubt he could read the words he put to the page. Sometimes even we had trouble, both with the lack of spacing to discern the day’s events and when the ink would run out mid-sentence but the journal would continue, obviously pounded into the paper from the keys he continued to press, lost forever to a memory that wouldn’t last. Still, the 20 of us would clamor around the 8 foot kitchen table passing the days journal from person to person as if completing a group crossword puzzle that clearly took a family effort, if only because of the misspellings and lack of punctuation.

43 lines later, it would end – often as abruptly as it started, but not because his thought was finished. Instead, because it was the end of the paper. And so, in mid-sentence, the stream of consciousness would conclude, to be completed on the black typewriter roller where all sentences must end. Still, if you ask him I doubt he worried about what he wrote or even how he wrote it. Because just like Elena’s journal was a way to communicate with Gracie and our family, so are my grandfather’s ramblings still today. But not because of the do-lists, the lack of spacing or even the weather report. Instead, it’s about the communication he fosters right there at his kitchen table. Laughs, jokes and love around an eight-foot table set for 20. Complete with an old-typewriter to tell his story.

*140 characters can never be enough – not for Ken and not for me. In celebration of his journal and on my twitter account of keithdesserich, spaces are optional. Plenty of room to tell you damnIforgottogetthemilkagain.

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