The Unseen Stories and Hidden Beauty We All Carry


“The beauty of a woman is not in a facial mode, but the true beauty in a woman is reflected in her soul. It is the caring that she lovingly gives, the passion that she shows. The beauty of a woman grows with the passing years.” ~Audrey Hepburn

I was home for the summer on break from graduate school. As I walked into my childhood room, suitcase and duffle in hand, I noticed a small brown box on my bed. I placed my bags on the floor.

The box had a few simple items in it and was labeled “Mudder.” The nickname we called my grandmother.

Mudder had recently passed away after several years at a nursing home at the age of ninety-four. I went to her very small, sweet funeral, thankful to have had a grandmother I truly loved and knew had loved me.

Just before I left school, Dad and Uncle Zeke had gone through her estate, sorted things between them, and handled all of the things children are left to handle during those times. We each had a small sum of money left to us. Growing up in The Great Depression and living through World War II, Mudder had learned to make do with a modest lifestyle.

But no one had mentioned the brown box I now found on my bed. I realized it had been designated to me.

It contained two cardigans, a jewelry box, and a five-year journal from when she was in her twenties. What a treasure!

Growing up, to me, Mudder was just my grandmother. And sometimes when I was feeling wise, she was my dad’s mom.

I always knew my black hair came from her. I’d also inherited her sense of humor, love of reading, and my first name, Katherine. She was born just one day ahead of me, with some years scattered between us, on Valentine’s Day, which I always thought was very cool.

I knew she played the organ for her church and taught me how to play Moon River and Always. And every time we’d travel to see her in Atlanta, Georgia, we knew we’d have the same breakfast of bologna, scrambled eggs, buttered toast, and cut fruit.

I also knew she had a sharp tongue that each family member took a turn with. She wore orthopedic shoes, did crossword puzzles in a breeze, walked in her neighborhood every day, and would scratch my back for over an hour at a time.

I’d occasionally ask her questions about her life and what it was like growing up in the 1930s. She’d fill me in on our Irish heritage, what happened to each of her nine siblings, and what she did on her recent trip to visit her cousins in Florida. I’d ask her to tell me about the stars since I knew she’d had an interest from a long time ago.

But that was mostly it. She was my grandmother. I loved her and she loved me.

Once her diary was entrusted to me, however, I realized the obvious truth I’d overlooked for my whole life with her.

My grandmother had also been a young woman.

An engaged woman.

A celestial navigator for the U.S. Navy in the 1940s.

In this precious diary that was bestowed to me, I had five years of her life written in her own voice, by her own hand.

The journal was set up as five years per page. On one single calendar day, there would be five sections to write the date of each year and three lines designated per year. The entries were quite short but were filled with life.

On one single page, I could see five years of her history.

Beginning with her first day at the Naval Air Station Corpus Christi in Texas, the day she met my grandfather, the day he proposed, and the day she yelled at him for being out all night drinking and womanizing while she cared for two small boys at their home.

I learned how nervous and excited she was to start her new career. How things were laid out at the naval base, and what her living arrangements were. I began to read her history through the eyes of a bright, hopeful, and eventually heartbroken woman.

I didn’t know much about my grandfather. He passed of a stroke before I was born. I knew he was funny and charming, liked sports, and fished on Sundays. He also loved the bottle and ran around on my grandmother.

They ultimately divorced. No one talked about it much. It was a long time ago, after all. Plus, I’m not sure how much was known. It was all a bit mysterious and quiet.

In year one of her journal, I read about some friends she made and what a good time it was on the base. Reading the anticipation and wide-eyed joy that my grandmother, Katherine Valentine, felt during her first week at Corpus Christi made me smile and giggle for her. “Oh Mudder, look at you. Aren’t you brave?!”

Perhaps she’s where I got my sense of adventure too? I’d never considered that.

It was intriguing to read about the day she met Norm, my grandfather. She was smitten. This was no longer a pieced-together story told to me by surviving family members. This was happening on the page.

A clear picture of a woman in her twenties, whose eyes sparkled and heart was full. Mudder had fallen in love.

This was my grandmother. A beautiful, audacious, romantic woman.

This youthful girl, full of life and joy, went on dates to the movies with her partner, laughed at his jokes, introduced him to her friends, and accepted a proposal from this sunny man she believed would be the love of her life.

And my Mudder, the brilliant young navigator, became a wife. Then a mother to Doug, then Richard. She loved them so.

But like so many journals of mothers with small children, the entries became far less frequent. She had her hands full caring for two little boys and juggling the household. Thankfully, the entries didn’t completely stop there. She did wind up reporting on holidays, birthdays, and the time Norm was drunk in front of the kids and was picked up by “her” again.

This was not my ninety-four-year-old grandmother who sat beside me and read with large-lensed glasses. This was a luminous woman, with a broken heart, and two darling, sunny boys, who did in fact turn out to be the loves of her life.

As I read her diary, I felt deeply connected to her. She’d lived so much life before I came along on the scene.

How silly I was to think of Katherine Valentine simply as my grandma. Yes, she was Mudder, my grandmother who I adored. But she was also a woman, full of thoughts, feelings, dreams, disappointments, accomplishments, and memories.

She was still that young, courageous girl, no matter her age or circumstances.

Mudder and Katherine were always the same person. And I never knew it.

How lucky and honored I’ve been to be the caretaker of her journal. I have a piece of her story and heart on these pages. What a gift that I’ve gotten to know her as a vibrant woman, not just as my devoted grandmother.

When I think of my experience reading her diary and having her world open up to me even just a sliver, I’m reminded to take that curiosity into all of my encounters with others. It’s easy to see other people as two-dimensional, part of a transaction, or just as passersby.

But every person we come across has their own sweet and broken story of life. We all have desires, moments of happiness, regret, and sadness. But we can miss recognizing that in each other if we aren’t looking outward. We just have to slow down and listen, be open, and acknowledge how dynamic we all are.

We may never know much of anything about the lives of people that we intersect with. But in the few seconds we interact or walk past each other, we owe a respect to one another. As we carry our own experiences and longings, so do others.

They have their own Katherine Valentine story as well.

**Image generated by AI

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