April 23, 2024

My Grandmother’s Diary Imagined From Stories She Told

Edna, 16 yrs old, graduating from Juliard
Edna, 16 yrs old, graduating from Juliard

November 6, 1893 (Chicago)

I’m nine years old, and I’m scared. Papa died yesterday. Momma tries to hide her tears, but who will take care of me? Who will pay for my voice and piano lessons at Julliard School of Music? The family had a plan for me, but now I’m a half orphan. What will Momma and I do?

December 7, 1900

I’m only 16, but my life is broken again. Momma is dead. She’s been sick for months. My life and my music career are finished. My aunt is trying to alter my Julliard recital dress to wear to the funeral, but it’s too small. There’s no money for a new dress.

April 6, 1905

I teach piano lessons, and play ragtime in a Chicago music hall. Someone has to pay the rent. My brother works in a pool hall and comes home smelling like whiskey. I have to work to pay for our apartment and buy food. I don’t have a beau. Instead of saving for a wedding dress, I give my brother my earnings to buy a pool hall.

May 10, 1910

My aunt says I’m getting old and have no suitors. Who has time for suitors? My brother introduces me to a man from the pool hall, a man about my age from Missouri. He’s a surveyor who wears a pressed dark suit. He smells like soap and has soft eyes and a gentle voice. His name is Lon Ware. All the other pool hall men are smokers and drinkers except for Lon. He’s a clean quiet gentleman.

June 1, 1912

Harrison Munderback (Grandma’s brother, d. 1915)

Today Lon asks my brother if he can have my hand in marriage. Lon visits every Sunday with a clean white shirt and his hair slicked back. His sweet eyes and gentle country ways grow on me. He doesn’t drink and likes my cooking. I’m 28 and say yes.

Mar 15, 1914

Lon and I are married at the Presbyterian Church. Aunt Anna fries chicken for the family. I’m scared about what happens tonight, but Lon is a gentle man.

Grandpa in Redwoods where he worked for Farm Bureau
Grandpa (Lon Ware) in the redwoods working for Farm Bureau

July 10, 1918

I get pregnant fast. Lonnie. is born in 1915 and James in 1917. My boys are my life as they play on the sidewalk near our front stoop. I watch them with an eagle eye to keep them safe on Chicago streets.

March 6, 1920

Lon gets a letter from Missouri. His father has died and Lon inherited the farm. I’ve never been there, but it’s a chance for our family to have a place of our own. I pack our few valued possessions. Lon buys train tickets to Saint Louis as I write this and he says we’ll find a way to take my piano to Missouri.

Grandma in Missouri


Do you have cherished stories told by grandparents or other relatives about the early days of their lives. Grandma Edna suffered many hardships and family deaths, but she was always the Great Mother.

For other stories about my grandmother, see Safe in the Great Mother’s Bed. For stories about my grandpa, see How I Learned to Trust a Man.


  1. May 1, 2024 at 5:46 pm

    Jean Raffa


    I so enjoyed this story and the style you used to tell it. It touched me deeply in the place where my own cherished memories of loved ones live. I feel so deprived. My forbears were all kind and loving, but they never shared their stories with me. I’ll never know their stories about how they endured and what they learned. Moreover, when I became a mother I had no models to encourage or embolden me to share my own stories with my children. Fortunately, I had a passion for self-knowledge and writing, so two of my books contain several stories that I hope will be meaningful and comforting to my descendants. I suspect the urge to live on in the lives of those we love comes naturally to most of us. By the way, it took my computer much more time than usual to open your site so I’m glad to know the problem isn’t with my computer! With love and gratitude, Jeanie

    1. May 2, 2024 at 10:22 am

      Elaine Mansfield


      Hi Jeanie, I’ll begin with the slow load time. While my website designer was out of town (isn’t that always the way it happens?), my site was invaded and a HongKong site munched my bandwidth and made it unusable. That’s all getting fixed now, but Chad had to block the site and slow it down for protection. This also destroyed my site design. I have malware, but somehow they got around it, so we’re using this opportunity to update my site. I hope that will be done this weekend.

      My Grandma loved having a granddaughter who sat next to her and sang old spirituals and Broadway songs while Grandma played the piano. Grandma also loved playing canasta and pinochle with me, so that gave us another opportunity for story telling. After my grandpa died when I was 9, Grandma moved to town so I often went to her apartment after school. She had all the things my mother didn’t allow (Pepsi and cinnamon balls) and afternoon soap operas, and she had good stories. My immediate family moved from Missouri when I was 12 because of my dad’s failing health or I would have had more stories. Edna was theatrical and loved being the center of attention. When she died, I inherited her photos.

      In writing about Grandma Edna, I pieced together her stories, stories my uncle had told me, memories, labeled photos, and old family Bibles. I could have added more about how Grandma’s only brother died driving while drunk and how she loathed alcohol. If my dad or uncle wanted to have anything with alcohol they made sure they weren’t seeing Grandma later because she would get upset and cry. My mother was restrained and Germanic and didn’t like Grandma’s dramatic flare and expressive emotions. I loved it and feel enriched by knowing her stories and remembering her delicioua peach pies and homemade bread.

  2. April 27, 2024 at 5:12 am

    Aladin Fazel


    Oh my goodness! That is an endearing diary you made of your grandma telling. That is so lovingly, and I noticed that as for being an orphan, I have a similar story with grandma; I was seven when my father died and eighteen when my mother passed away.
    You have made a jewel of your memories with such fabulous pictures. I would wish to have such a precious collection, but I have never met my grandparents, and the old pictures are scattered away as we escape Iran.
    I feel incredibly fortunate to have received this post. It was initially rejected, and I couldn’t open it. However, I persevered and finally gained access to this precious gem I will save in my archive.
    Dear Elaine, thank you so much for sharing this treasure with me.

    1. April 27, 2024 at 4:13 pm

      Elaine Mansfield


      Thank you, Aladin. Because of my dad’s death when I was 14, I didn’t have time to ask my Grandma many of the questions I would like to ask her now. Still, I knew the structure and bones of her life because she liked to tell stories of her days in Chicago and the early death of her mother, father, and then brother. I’m grateful for grandpa came alone and fell in love with her. I know you also lost parents too young and then your brother Al.
      These photos were in a box of momentos I inherited from my grandmother after her death when I was around 20. I have a few more photos taken by family, but chose the best. I also inherited some of her crochet artistry which is precious to me and is mounted on my bedroom wall.

      (You couldn’t open my site because my site was hacked by someone in HongKong who was using all the bandwidth. It wasn’t a virus that spread, but I couldn’t use my computer for a while. My site works now and the hacker is blocked, but the design is a mess. The man who takes care of my computer was out of town (of course), but he’ll be back on Monday and get the design sorted out. Until then, each blog page is fine to use and safe.)

  3. April 24, 2024 at 3:18 am

    Deborah Gregory


    Dear Elaine, Full Moon blessings to you my dear friend! What a great idea, to imagine your Grandmother’s diary. I really enjoyed reading how her life unfolded and was so pleased that Lon crossed her path, bringing joyful balance to the deep sorrows of her life. I resonate fully as when I met my wife, my life blossomed too in response and balance was restored.

    Unfortunately, I don’t have any cherished grandparent stories to tell, only dark, depressing ones that are full of suffering and loss because of family estrangements on both sides. However, I did come across “other” grandmothers in fairy tales and forests where several godmothers and tree elders become the most treasured of companions. Love and light, Deborah.

    1. April 24, 2024 at 2:19 pm

      Elaine Mansfield


      I miss you, Deborah, but assume you’re creating new exciting things. Or maybe you’re doing inner soul work. The Full Moon was beautiful a few nights ago and then thick clouds rolled in. I was glad to see it one night.

      Grandma Edna fell into the loving arms of a gentle man who knew his own grief. They had a peaceful marriage and I loved driving to the country with my parents and brother for Sunday feasts. Grandma cooked and baked all day in the extreme Missouri heat. Sometimes we need that perfect partner to lift our life and Vic provided that for me. I’m sorry you didn’t have a fleshy grandmother (Edna was very fleshy and I loved sleeping with her at the farm). I’m thankful for the godmothers and tree elders, and I’m grateful for Lin in your life because I’m sure you mother each other along with all the other roles of love. Sending you love and joy.

      1. April 25, 2024 at 2:57 am

        Deborah Gregory


        I miss you too, Elaine! Indeed, I’m writing a lengthy essay for my upcoming book, Croneology. Simultaneously, as my life is changing in unexpected ways, inner soul work is being revealed. The Tower card in the tarot accurately captures this difficult period of time. Later this year, once things have settled down and I have more clarity, I’ll write about it. I tell myself I’ve survived these dark nights of the soul before, and will again.

        Oh, I really enjoy your wonderful family stories! I love how Edna spent her days baking and evenings cuddling and how peaceful her marriage to Lon was. For a grandchild I imagine, it couldn’t have been any better! It’s true, alongside all those “other roles of love” between women, friends included, the “mothering” aspect can be remarkable and deeply healing for both women. Sending love and light across the oceans between us, Deborah.

        1. April 26, 2024 at 12:20 pm

          Elaine Mansfield


          The Tower card is appropriate for my life, too, as I make my way through a strange medical mystery. It’s making me miserable as we seek a diagnosis. I want to give up with all the testing, but I think I have to follow through at this point. I’ve had a fortunate life since meeting Vic (my Lon). Grandma Edna made the most of a bad hand of cards. She loved playing card games, by the way. She was theatrical and Grandpa Lon was a good earthy balance for her.

          I’ve been grateful for the mothering I’ve received from women friends, but also from my sons who stand by me when life is challenging. I’m fortunate to have support. I send love and strength back to you and we’ll see what happens next.

  4. April 24, 2024 at 2:47 am

    Jan Crowther


    What a great idea! I could do that whilst doing family history to bring it alive! I love it

    1. April 24, 2024 at 2:08 pm

      Elaine Mansfield


      Jan, I’ve written with a small group for many years and the woman who leads the group suggested writing a diary. Grandma’s life was full of interesting characters and experiences. She had one massive change after another until she landed on a small farm in Missouri. She dealt with every challenge with her piano at her side. When grandpa died, my dad and uncle moved her piano with her to her new apartment in town and I often went there after school to spend time with her.

  5. April 23, 2024 at 8:33 pm

    Marian Beaman


    Elaine, as you know I’m on a blog break, but I just have to break my hiatus to voice my appreciation for your vignettes woven from the fabric of your Grandmother’s imagined diary. So much silence and suffering in silence. But joy too. Grandmother Ware was indeed a Great Mother.

    1. April 24, 2024 at 2:01 pm

      Elaine Mansfield


      Yes, so much suffering, but Grandma ended up with a loving gentle husband and two sons who loved her after a hard start. I didn’t include the suffering of my dad’s illness and death when he was only 44. He was her first born and he adored her. No matter what, she always had her music. When she lived with my aunt and uncle after grandpa died, they wanted to take a short vacation. When they returned, she didn’t want to go back to their home to live even though she loved them. She loved playing piano in the home for the elderly and other residents loved singing the old songs with her. I was glad she had that last gift.

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