Downsizing: Journal’s End


A post by writer Frances Wood: 

My grandmother kept journals for decades, written in code – a shorthand she had learned back in 1917 or so, long obsolete. I always wondered what was in those journals, and even if I might someday be able to decipher them and finally learn all the family secrets.

Until she burned them.

I don’t know why. She was probably downsizing. In her seventies, perhaps.

I felt bereft. All those secrets, lost.

I felt that way until this summer, when I calculated I had perhaps a hundred pounds of highly flammable paper in my attic – my journal, dating back to high school. And not just my journal, but greeting cards and letters – some from that same grandmother.

And I realized: I don’t need all that paper up there. The contents are also stored in my head. So I began going through plastic bin after plastic bin, and I purged my attic of paper. But at the same time, I refreshed some of those memories in my mind.



I am finally old enough to share in Grandmother’s wisdom. Some secrets are best left behind. Allow ancient gossip to fade. Let the future be unburdened.

Frances Wood is the author of When Molly Was a Harvey Girl, Daughter of Madrugada, and Becoming Rosemary.

Frances and I have been tracking each other’s writing careers for several decades now. When I told her how brave I thought she was to discard the journals, Frances said, “I didn’t feel brave. I felt lighter. I already am my experience-I didn’t need all that extra weight to prove it.”

To learn more about Frances Wood and her writing, visit her website, Frances M.







 A post by writer Frances Wood:

With today’s revealing styles, the average woman shaves some 414 square inches of leg

That’s what the ad said.

What it didn’t say was that today, 45 years later, I’d still be using the same razor on legs that maybe have a few more square inches on them. Width-wise, not length-wise. I’m not so skinny as I was at 18.

That girl who took this electric razor to college, did she realize she was creating memories?

I don’t think so.

She was thinking about classes and boys. About a new roommate-who-wasn’t-her-sister. And boys. She had no picture in her mind of the woman I am now.

But I can see her so clearly.

I see her 414 square inches of legs, and her short skirts, and the ski sweater her Arizona-based grandfather bought because he was convinced she might freeze to death back in New England.

She almost did. Well, her legs almost froze, because of those skirts.

But the sweater…

I still have that, too. And when I touch the still-beautiful wool I feel an immensity of love so much bigger than 414 square inches.

That love, and the usefulness of the razor, have kept me going (and feeling pretty) throughout my life.

The girl I was then didn’t know she was creating memories. She didn’t know she was saving love to warm the woman I am now.

I am so grateful to her.

1968, Edward's wedding

Photo Top: Ad for Remington’s Lady-go-lightly, circa 1968.

Photo Middle: Frances in the dress she made for her brother’s wedding.  Not shown are the shoes she dyed to match.

Photo Bottom: Frances now, still sporting lovely shades of blue. She’s the author of When Molly Was a Harvey Girl, Daughter of Madrugada, and Becoming Rosemary. To learn more about Frances Wood and her writing, visit her website, Frances M. 



Aging, Menopause

Guest Post: The Crone and Her Familiars

A guest post by writer Frances Wood:

I grew up with dogs. Inherited a cat when I was in my 30s. Gave my heart away – forever – to a border collie named Zephyr who died of her old age when I was barely 50. And now that I have white hair and something of an attitude, I’ve adopted a parrot.

And not just any parrot: a rejected parrot; a rescue parrot. A gorgeous guy (see photo) who has enough attitude for a thousand menopausal women – which is sort of the definition of a parrot. Just like a lass approaching puberty, I was attracted by his beauty. A lumpy and land-bound human, I was envious of his wings. Being a literary type (remember Treasure Island?) I let my imagination wander in the direction of old-lady pirates. I mean, why not? Haven’t we all known old ladies who would have made marvelous pirates?

What I didn’t know – or perhaps don’t remember from my early reading – is that parrots don’t need humans to make themselves complete. Parrots are perfectly piratical all on their own.

It’s humans who need the dressing up. We need familiars: dogs to hug and share our secrets with when we are little; cats to scorn us when we’re older and maybe a tad too sure-of-ourselves; that one special pet who steals a heart away and then gives it back with love and memories; and a parrot to remind us what we really are.

Because this is something I’ve discovered in my crone age: we are small. Tiny, but infinite. Fortunate in that we possess the kinds of shoulders that are capable of bearing beauty.

Phoenix is the wonderful group I got Taji from. Like so many pet rescue societies, they do marvelous work.

Photo Above is Taji on his perch. Behind him is Rosemary, the main character in Becoming Rosemary, Frances Wood’s first novel.

Photo Below is a picture of Frances, taken when she visited her dad in California. To learn more about Frances and her writing, check out


Guest Post: Instant Menopause and the Fighting Nun

A guest post from my friend Frances Wood, who writes that “she entered menopause earlier than most, and with a certain amount of Catholic drama…”

Imagine this…

You are 42 years old, recently diagnosed with a terrible disease, and you wake up one morning to find that all of your female parts are gone. As in Kaput! Over! Finished! Disappeared! You have a tight row of metal staples from navel to crotch that sort of looks like a zipper implanted into your skin. And while everybody around you is thrilled with the success of the surgery, all you can feel is…RAGE. Big time. Rage at anything, everything, everybody, from that first-year resident who woke you up at five a.m. because she has no life of her own, to that edge of a building outside your window that blocks all the sunlight. I mean, you HATE!

And one of the doctors is saying, “Hmm. Is there any chance she can have some HRT?”

That’s something for the whatever-committee to decide. In the meantime,  your anger spirals into the past and hooks onto the ONE PERSON who is the cause of all your misery: Sister Estelle Marie. Oh, yes! A true, wooden-ruler kind of nun who told you God is great and God is good, and oh, boy, do you have a thing or so to say to her!

So when the hospital chaplain stops by and asks, “Would you like to see a member of your faith?”, you say, “Get me a nun!” Because you want to fight! You want to fight with the god of your childhood, and who better represents him than Sister Estelle Marie?

They send you a nun. What you have forgotten – because, let’s face it, you’ve been a lapsed Catholic for decades – is that the religious have gone all new-agey. They don’t wear black habits anymore, or carry rulers, or even let you call them ‘Sister.’ This woman is not only stylish: she wants to be your friend; she wants to comfort you. Which entirely defeats your purpose. If this Karen, or whatever she wants you to call her, won’t let you fight back, then WHAT USE IS SHE?

A few weeks later you are still blaming Karen for having gone all nice – while, at the same time, trying to pull in that rage because you now know, with your slightly saner mind, that you are having an instant menopause, losing-all-your-hormones cold-turkey, sort of moment – when the UPS truck comes up your driveway and leaves a box on your doorstep. Your friend Joanne, a many-decades lapsed Baptist, has sent you exactly what you need. A fighting nun.

The Post’s Author:   Frances M. Wood is actually a very mild-mannered person who writes historical novels. You can meet her at

The Nun:  Frances writes that the Fighting Nun now “sits in my office and has my back.”

When Molly Was a Harvey Girl:  Frances Wood’s most recent novel has won many honors including Bank Street College of Education, Best Children’s Books of the Year 2011 and Notable Social Studies Trade Book for Young People 2011.

Booklist:  “The values of education, courage, and simplicity all come together in this delightful tale.”

Kirkus:  “…entertaining characters and a fast-paced plot will keep readers engaged.”