My Grandfather’s Diary

My maternal grandfather died peacefully two weeks ago, and going through his things the family discovered that he had kept a diary for much of his life. It is surprising that he lived to be 96 and no one knew that he engaged in this practice. He wasn’t being secretive about it; he was just a humble man who didn’t realize that other people would be interested.

Last night I read through the volume which describes his time living in Boston while he completed his Master’s degree in Public Relations at Boston University in the late 1950s. Reading this document was fascinating not only because I learned more about his life, but also because it was interesting to hear about what life as a graduate student was like fifty years ago.

His wife and children were living in Virginia while he studied up north during his sabbaticals from Eastern Mennonite College (now University), so to make money for his living expenses in Boston he worked various odd jobs. These included typing up other students’ dissertations (he was an excellent typist and typed everything, including the check he gave me for my high school graduation), packing boxes of Christmas ornaments, and selling his blood. He got paid between $15.00-$30.00 for this last activity—an excellent rate when one takes inflation into account. For a while he lived at the YMCA, and later rented a room in a boarding house. He also rented a typewriter instead of bringing his own from home, which I found puzzling considering that it was such an important machine for him. He admits to skipping a class every once in a while in order to get a paper or project done for another class. I guess that bad student habits are timeless!

My favorite detail from his time in Boston is that he planned to go to a Celtics game against Philadelphia during the 1959-60 season just for something to do even though he was not a sports fan. I love that he tried to take full advantage of all of the experiences that living in a big city offered him when he had the chance (up to that point he had only lived in small rural communities: Greencastle, Pennsylvania, a brief time in rural Kentucky, and Harrisonburg, Virginia). If he had attended the game, he would have seen two of the greatest players of all time, Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain, engaging in one of the best one-on-one rivalries of all time during the season in which Wilt (one of the first NBA stars to achieve “first name only” status: Wilt, Oscar, Kareem, Magic, Shaq, Kobe, LeBron…) averaged over 37 points per game as a rookie. My grandfather almost certainly did not realize the importance of the matchup, but it is neat to think about him going to the game, anyway.

However, in looking up the game in question, it appears from evidence in the diary that he did not actually attend the game. The entry for “Thursday, December 3 [1959]” states that he “Got ticket for Boston Celtics-Philadelphia basketball game next week.” The only time the two teams played the following week was on December 9 (here is the boxscore). The entry for that day reads in part that he “Got telegram saying Papa was seriously ill. Called Gladys [his sister who was still living on the family farm] in evening. Worked part of evening. Sent card to Papa and took a walk.” So apparently the news that his father was ill (he died on January 17, 1960) concerned my grandfather enough that he did not use his ticket. This decision is, of course, understandable, and it was special to read his entries from the time of his father’s illness and death while I spend time with my mother as she continues to grieve his death.

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