A couple of weeks ago I read a person’s comments about the experience of keeping a childhood diary. The woman related that she had recently presented a new diary to her young daughter who had just turned the same age that she herself had been when she began to keep a diary. Her hope was that re-reading her childhood entries in synchrony with her daughter’s developmental stages would provide insight into her child’s inner world. I was so jealous. Not only had she actually kept her diaries, but she had also kept a diary.
On more than one occasion when I was a girl, I would get a diary as a gift. It would generally have a leather-look cover, the words “My Diary” embossed on the front, and a tab closure with a small lock and key (which was rendered utterly meaningless by my habit of storing the key right next to the diary). Upon receiving these gifts, I would assign them some special place in my bedroom and imagine them filling up with adventures and escapades over the course of the next several months.
While I loved the idea of keeping a diary, what actually took place was a far cry from my fanciful notions. Here’s how things really went: I’d take the new diary down from its perch on a closet shelf, plop down on my bed with a writing implement, open it to the first page, enter the date and write “Dear Diary,” on the top line, and then…
My mind would go blank. Every single time. I mean, I had no trouble remembering the things that had happened earlier that day, but figuring out what parts of my mundane existence were significant enough to record on those pristine pages was another matter. I found myself staring at the page, wracking my brain as to what to say and how to say it, and then after a while, when nothing came to mind, I’d close the book, place it back on the shelf, and scamper off to play. This scenario looped daily for about a week after receiving the new diary, and then losing interest altogether, I’d abandon it to the journal writer’s morgue.
The ramification of my aborted attempts to journal: I would have the opportunity to synchronously re-read zilch when my daughter got to the age when I floundered as a diarist. I suppose that’s probably just as well, since she didn’t turn out to be a slow-down-and-contemplate-life type kid and, quite likely, would have resisted any efforts on my part to get her to do so.
Nevertheless, the idea of having a box of diaries saved from my childhood is very appealing. Taking the little keys in hand, I would unlock the small volumes and revisit thoughts and feelings of an earlier, more carefree time as I leafed through their pages. I would be amused by the crude penmanship, spelling mistakes, incorrect grammar, and misconceptions. Perhaps one of the entries might read something like this:
October 23, 1959
Mom put honey on my oatmeal today because we ran out of brown shugar. I like brown shugar a lot better. Joe* stole my toast and jelly when it fell on the floor. Stupid dog.
I scraped my knee on the sidewalk cause I tried to jump two many hopscotch squares. It bled but I didn’t cry. Mom cleaned it up and put a Band-Aid on it.
Jimmy cried when Mrs. Fisher sent him to the principal’s office. He knew he shouldn’t bring his dad’s lighter to school.
We’re going to Grandpa’s house tomorrow. I want to swing on the grapevine in the woods again. Maybe this time the mean bull won’t be in the field so we can cross over to the creek and catch crawdads.
Linda K. Burns
Oh wait, what am I thinking? These things were recorded… and stored away in endless dog-eared files in the memory vault… in full color, with sound tracks, scents, and flavors attached… plus names, places, back stories and feelings. I’ve been leafing through them for weeks now in the process of transcribing them into text.
But this time around, I not only have a sense of what’s significant in these daily happenings, I have Spell Check.
(* Joe was the family daschund.)