I took a day last week to clean my workspace, more out of necessity than diligence. If it is true that acts of creation often arise from those which involve destruction, then this story is one, for while I was sorting, classifying and throwing away I found one of the rare things that remain to me from the years that I lived with my grandmother Blanche, her diary in red card format from 1968; it was stored on a shelf in dire need of a dust rag.
Of course, instead of continuing with work, I sat down in the middle of the mess for a moment to read a few pages, written with his neat little hand in what turned out to be his penultimate year of journaling; she died a few months before her 61st birthday in 1970.
I have never been a columnist, although I have often considered becoming one.
Today, social media entries serve as a sort of diary, although I find my grandmother’s “posts” of 18 lines each – the maximum amount allowed on each page of her leatherette diary to be good. market, made by the National Blank Book Company – less opinions and rants than simple descriptions of single days in an incredibly busy life. I don’t think a reader of her diaries could have guessed who she voted for or what she thought about the Vietnam War, but they would, I’m sure, been in awe of what she said. accomplished during her days and how tired she must have been at the end of each.
With a few exceptions, she wrote no more and no less every day, and if I remember correctly, I can still see her in the evening, after the dishes, after the end of her bath, sitting on a rough padded chair under a metal reading lamp, recording his daily entry with a cheap ballpoint pen while the late night news played and my grandfather dozed in his recliner. The newspaper often sat with its Bible and devotion, perhaps with the latest issue of “TV Guide” and a little mending on the arm of its chair, awaiting its faithful return.
Although diaries often conjure up images of adolescent anxiety or write cures for depression or wartime fears and confidences, they are in fact valuable historical documents. Much of what we know about the past comes from columnists and letter writers, and I certainly wish there were more of the two now, not only because I hope to see a revival in the art of writing, but also that the idea of ââattic trunks filled with yellowing emails is less than realistic. In other words, we erase too much of our past at the push of a button, and certainly people tend to think more by handwriting than by typing or speaking; an argument even more for newspapers than for publications on Facebook.
I taught American literature for years, and among the very first selections
I typically attributed a few journal articles each year by botanist and ornithologist William Bartram, who wrote about – primarily for a largely European readership – what was to be considered unimaginable then: Florida alligators and the Cherokee culture in Georgia. Bartram is said to have been so devoted to his diary that he finished an entry just hours before he died at the age of 84.
I also assigned a few passages from the little diary that teacher Sarah Kemble Knight wrote while traveling from Boston to New York. Seeing that it was in 1704 and that she was on horseback, that there was hardly any place to stay or eat, and that she was constantly uncomfortable and in danger, her journal is a document. remarkable. What she encountered on her trip was hardly a quick trip on the I-90.
From John Adams and his son, John Quincy, to Anne Frank and Louisa May Alcott to Mary Chestnut, from CS Lewis to Thomas Merton, from Reagan to Ruskin to Robert Louis Stevenson, the chroniclers have enlightened and educated us for centuries. One of the best known was Samuel Pepys, a 17th century English naval administrator who kept a journal for about 10 years. Pepys had no intention of having his diary read by his contemporaries, but he nevertheless wanted it – including its rather mature passages – to be read after his death. His accounts of plague, fires, and wars, as well as his own personal revelations, make for interesting reading.
If nothing else, my grandmother’s journal inspired me in the coming year to keep one of my own; It might be a weird thing to start doing now, at my age, but I’m determined to do it anyway. Unable to write much by hand that is legible, my journal will be kept on a computer, sometimes written, I’m sure, in retrospect on the morning I enjoy working the most. This will, unfortunately, be with apologies for Daniel Defoe’s 18th century novel of the same name, “A Diary of the Year of the Plague,” as we face, once again, another winter with Covid in the headlines. Hope this will be our last.
My grandmother’s diary is a treasure, but it’s also a bit of history. For example, as she wrote about her day on Wednesday, June 5, she included her usual temperature readings – a low of 59 and a high of 83 degrees – and the fact that she had slept well so unexpectedly, that she had made a blue and white quilt cover, and that she and her daughter and granddaughter had cleaned their church; My grandparents’ winter charcoal was also delivered that day. She also wrote in the top margin of the page – a place she often reserved to record an evening news story – that Senator Robert Kennedy had been shot. She would record her death in her next entry, a “terrible thing,” she wrote.
That day was just another where she couldn’t have seen what the next one would bring. In this we have a lot in common.
You can contact Mike Lunsford at [email protected]; his website is at www.mikelunsford.com. His books are available in many Wabash Valley stores and on Amazon.com.