Doing research at the Museum of the Native American down on Bowling Green, I came across the strangest old woman. I was alone(Courtney was off making photocopies of Lenape longhouse sketches) and looking for a book on the the Lenape language. Said old woman was sitting at one of the round reference tables poring over a Lenape linguistics guide. It was likely the only one written and that, most likely, the only copy in print. I couldn't help but notice how furiously she was writing in her black leather-bound notebook. I also couldn't help but be amazed by the look of her. She had pure white hair in a perfect bob and thick round-framed black glasses. For a second I thought Lee Krasner was before me taking an interest in the impossibility of the Lenape language.
Without even looking up she said, "Can't take your eyes off me, huh?" Her voice was gravelly but not so deep that it would frighten. There was just enough season to know she was a life-long New Yorker.
"No, I actually need that book," I said smiling. Works with all the old ladies.
"You do?" Genuine surprise. "What the hell for?" She liked me already. I could tell.
Many have asked that question, "I'm working on a graphic novel."
"And it's in Lenape?"
"Parts of it," I said sheepishly. I usually lose people at that point in the conversation, but her face turned rosy and warm.
"What's it about?"
I expel a regretful sigh, "The history of New York City."
She lights up further. Her posture even improved, "What's the story?"
I was confused. I thought that was pretty self-explanatory. "Umm, well, the Dutch settle New Amsterdam after Henry Hudson discovers the island of..." I lost her.
"You mean it's straight history?"
"Ah, sure," I say without confidence.
She grimaces, like only a New Yorker can, then quickly motions for me to come closer. Naturally I had been keeping my distance. Anyone who's interested in Lenape shouldn't be trusted.
I move slowly toward her. I figured she was going to hit me with the book for my apparent audacity. "Do you wanna hear a real story?"
I'm not sure I had a choice, "Sure?"
Two and half hours later (Courtney had gone to have lunch without me) she's talking about Coney Island in 1942 and a giant sperm whale out to take revenge for her dead calf (put on display outside of Nathan's). From the content of what I heard before, I was pretty sure this lady was a loon.
"What? You don't believe me about the whale?"
It wasn't only the whale. I was dumbfounded by the time I had invested in this woman. "Well I-"
"Check it out. Makes for a better story than straight-up history." And she continued on for forty-five minutes filling in the decades after, which were even stranger than the centuries prior.
"Then the story's not over?" I ask cautiously.
"No, but I bet it'll be one helluva finish," she says with a grin.
She knew I was humoring her. "You should read my journals if you don't believe me. I'll tell you what. You wanna good graphic's novel..."
"...read the journals. Come back next week and meet me in Bowling Green. I'll give you all of 'em."
"I don't think that's nece-"
"Come on! Whatta ya gotta lose? Besides, they start in '31. Real slice-a-history." She did have a point. I was a sucker for history. "What the hell is a graphic's novel anyway?"
That was almost two years ago. Last May I met her again to return all 19 volumes of her journals. What she recorded from 1931 to present is at once fascinating, thrilling, and frightening. When I saw her I said, "You should publish these."
"Nah. You use them."
"I think I might."
"Really?" Her 90 year-old face smiled back the wrinkles.
"It's fascinating stuff.
"Isn't it though."
"But it's your property-"
"No, no. I'll be gone soon and this crazy story is gonna end. I need your youth to get it out there," she smiled and lightly smacked me on the cheek.
"Courtney and I have decided to use some of this in the graphic novel. If that's ok with you?" I asked. "Also, I hope you don't mind, but I photocopied the journals for research purposes."
"Wonderful. And the resolution is coming. You just need to stay tuned sweetheart," said like a real old-salt New Yorker. Crazy as sin and full of heart. "So why me?" I asked.
"You had a nice smile." With that, Velma Graydon, a spry 90 years young walked off. This blog contains her journal entries transcribed. Her handwriting is impossible to read and it takes a day or two to translate each entry, so I'm typing them one at a time. When I last spoke to her she said she was pleased that more people would be able to read them, but had no clue how to access a "glob" to see if I was doing them justice.
I told her I was doing my best.