MOREAU — Denise LaRose grabbed her grandmother’s diary from 1973 off the shelf and flipped open to her entries for January.
She smiled as she read the entry for Jan. 29, the day she was born.
“We are grandparents,” her grandmother wrote. “What a happy day.”
Just two days before that, her grandmother wrote — in tiny blue cursive — that the peace treaty was signed in Vietnam.
“Finally the hope is a reality and the war grinds to a standstill, but everyone is uneasy,” she wrote. “Fighting still goes on in places and even though our boys are coming home, we still maintain advisers there and it seems too much of a possibility that we can get re-involved.”
LaRose’s grandmother, Grace Seeholzer, wrote diary entries every day from 1957 until 2004, when Alzheimer’s took her memories away. As she suffered with the disease, her devoted husband, Bert, started reading her the diaries in hopes that the memories of their long and remarkable life together would bring her back.
Then Bert started sharing Grace’s memories via email to more than 50 people, including church friends, people they met during their travels, other birding enthusiasts, their four children and some of their 11 grandchildren and 17 great-grandchildren.
Grace died on May 29, just shy of her 92nd birthday, but Bert still continues to share her life through his daily emails, which also serve as a way for the family to keep tabs on their patriarch.
“It’s keeping our family together,” LaRose said. “We are stretched out across the world. At one point, we had somebody in Madagascar, Iran, Europe, Tanzania, South America and North America.”
If he doesn’t send an email by 11 a.m. every day, the family starts calling.
“Everybody starts watching me,” Bert said.
“For us, with him living alone and being 93, it lets us know, yup, he got up this morning,” LaRose said.
“It’s the memories,” Bert said, rubbing tears from his eyes. “It’s the memory of what we did.”
The diaries stand in order on bookshelves in the basement of the Seeholzer home. They serve as the family’s own personal history textbooks of their life outside of Cooperstown in central New York. They moved to Moreau after Bert retired in the mid-1980s.
“Every day she would write what happened during the day,” LaRose said. “Some days it was ‘I got the wash done.’ Other days it was half a page.”
Bert, whom Grace called “Bud,” started his career working as a salesman at Suburban Propane, eventually working his way up the ladder. Grace was a housewife with four busy children — Caroline, David, Steven and Brian.
“My favorite part is seeing things through her eyes,” said LaRose, the eldest grandchild.
Grace also kept detailed photo albums and scrapbooks of their travels to Australia, New Zealand and their canoe trips all over Northern Canada.
A bush pilot would fly them into the wilds of Canada, drop them off, and a month later meet them 200 to 300 miles downriver.
“We did that for about 20 years and each day, she wrote the whole experience,” Bert said.
She would detail the wildlife they saw, like caribou and wolves, and the conversations she had with the many people they met.
“She was a people person,” Bert said. “When we were up in the arctic, she got talking with the Inuits up there and get good conversations going with them. She was a very special person.”
She wrote about playing in recorder groups as well as playing the piano, organ and base recorder.
They were avid bird enthusiasts, and Bert still has six bird feeders filled with suet outside his big picture window facing the back of his property. The couple ran birding trips in Texas, and every New Year’s Day they went on a bird count.
Grace was an artist, and on the basement wall, adjacent to her diaries, are her paintings.
Grace became a born-again Christian in the late 1960s, and through the diaries you can see her faith getting deeper and deeper.
The diaries also contain programs from events as well as newspaper clippings.
“Every Christmas, she wrote down who got what,” LaRose said.
The couple hosted foreign exchange students through the Rotary over the years and Bert is still in touch with several of them.
The entire family sings, often in four-part harmony. Grace sewed her daughter’s wedding gown and rode a scooter. She was very active in her church.
They all carry what they call the “Seeholzer gene” that makes them cry a lot.
“The detail of her diary is that she loved to see new things,” Bert said. “For the years that we traveled, she would write up in detail the experiences that she had and they are in the diaries with great detail.”
She never wrote professionally, but always said if she wrote a book, it would be titled, “Mostly, we remember laughter.”
Grace’s diary from July 1969 details the first moon landing, the astronauts collecting moon rocks, erecting the American flag and safely blasting off again back to Earth.
“A new era is certainly ushered in with the events of today,” Grace wrote. “How will our lives change? Where will it all ultimately lead us?”
Grace was diagnosed with dementia in 1998, but continued to write daily until 2004, and even her handwriting looked different in those diaries.
Bert took care of her every day. She was only in a nursing home for a month.
“They were the epitome of the ‘til death do us part, in sickness and in health,’” LaRose said.
LaRose hopes to donate copies of the diaries to a museum someday.
“What a gift she has given to all of us in the diaries,” she said.