Saturday, December 3, 2011


 I have a lot of experience with diaries.  From the age of thirteen to twenty five, I wrote in a spiral notebook every day.  My journals are heaped in a box in the basement of Simon's house.  Even random diaries seem to make their ways into my life.  I became the owner of this one after Dad died.  Minnie L. Burpee, Rockford, Illinois.  Who was she?  There are a few clues.  There's a newspaper clipping in there from the early 1950s: an obituary for a Mary L. Burpee, who died at age 104.  Also a letter to my grammy from 1959, written by her neighbor Blanche Burpee, who must be Mary's daughter.  Yeah somehow, my family has the diary of the mother of the next-door neighbor of my grandparents.
It's a beautiful diary, actually.  Dipped pen.  Pressed plants.  The first entry is January 15, 1871. "...I am reading Little Women am on the last volume. [Oh yeah, Little Women was NEW, once.] I like it very much if Jo had accepted Laurie I should like it all the better.  I am sitting in the kitchen writing while Eliza is busy getting supper and mother is warming her feet by the stove and reading."

I am enthralled, but even more fascinated by my inheritance of my grandfather's six diaries.  He started writing when he was about ten and continued writing through his early adulthood

Here's the first one.  "Weihnacht" means "Christmas" in German.  Luckily, he didn't write his entries in German:  even when my German was good, I had a hard time with old-fashioned German script.
As a boy, he wrote about ice cream and school.  He was a newsboy for a while.  After he had stood on the corner yelling, "Extra!  Extra!" he would write his daily headline shout-out in his diary.
Later diaries became kind of scrapbook-like as well.  He writes of chemical engineering, concerts and canoe trips.  Girls he dated.  His first real job after college. 

I drew my fingers just lightly through the tendrils of his story, picking up diaries and opening them without reading from beginning to end.  In this way I am beginning to know my grandfather, who died when I was one year old.  Turns out he was funny, good-looking, outdoorsy.  There were surprising revelations, too.  That (at times), he did not believe in God.  His father was a Methodist pastor who would have flipped his lid if he had known.  He had serious misgivings about marrying Grammy. They broke up; she almost married someone else - a widower with a couple of kids; they had long conversations at his kitchen table; he expressed dismay and a lack of respect for her; time passed; they got back together.

Wow.  News to me.  Not shocking in itself; but surprising to think that people about whom I had heard only the best and most upstanding things had their moments of anger and uncertainty, self-analysis and elation.

Do diarists write for themselves or for others?  Did Grandpa know, when he was writing down his disappointment about Grammy, that we would all be reading it later, slack-jawed with fascination?  Well, no, in that he didn't know at that time that Grammy was going to BE Grammy.  She was a girl that he dated, broke up with, dated again.  He didn't know the future, but was just recording where his feelings were at that moment.  The answer to the question is also "Yes", though; in that he saved diary after diary as the years went by.  Did he do that because he wanted us to be able to see the whole arc of his life after he was gone?  Or so he could look at that arc himself and understand himself better?  Beats ME!

Blogs are similar.  Public and private at the same time.  Blogs can sometimes shock readers with their revelations; but dairies have always done that.  And not just years down the road.  Think of the times you pulled your sister's diary out from under her mattress and picked the lock. "Ah-hah!  She DOES love Billy Telodoro!  I'm tellin' everybody!  OR, maybe I won't tell anyone if she washes the dishes and takes the trash out for the rest of our natural lives..."

Or think of the movie scene.  Girl pulls diary out of mother's messy closet and flips it open.  The violins swell as she reads and clutches her breast in shock.  "SO!  I'm ADOPTED.  Why didn't you tell me!?!?!"  "Darling, we didn't want you to know...different!" 

Dairies and blogs both get their authors in trouble sometimes. 

I have received a letter from a lawyer, asking me to refrain from mentioning a particular person in this blog and threatening me with legal action if I don't immediately remove references to the Person in Question (hereafter referred to as PIQ) and never refer to PIQ again.  I have also been told that I cannot privatize my blog or restrict access to it in any way, because the lawyer wants to check on me and make sure I am obeying.  I'll bet what's really going on is that she wants to try my bagel recipe or read one of my awful book reviews, since my blog is 99% about things other than PIQ.

I could always move the entire blog to a new address.  I might still do that if I feel the need for privacy (don't worry, my readers in Uganda will always find me.)  In the meantime, I will write about what ever is on my mind: whatever is bugging me; causing me to ponder; making me happy or getting my attention.  And today, that will be....

Ten things far more interesting than empty threats on law-firm letterhead:

  1. The weight room at the Rec, where I lifted more on the triceps machine than I have ever lifted before.
  2. Fiats, because I think I am going to buy one  A yellow one.  Or maybe a red one.
  3. The homemade chili that Chuck made last night and left at my place for me to enjoy.  Nathan declared it very tasty when he had some with cornbread tonight.
  4. Margaritas, which interest me at the moment because I DIDN'T have one today at the Guadalupe staff Christmas party.  Orders from the bar cost extra and I want to save the money so I can buy Christmas presents.  I'm craving one, now.
  5. My aunt, who called me up today, and with whom I had numerous laughs. We were talking about smoking and she told me a story that gets its own blog entry tomorrow.
  6. One of the candidates for the Computer Lab Assistant job that I posted last week.  She is from Liberia and has experience with refugee resettlement work and has taught job skills to people with developmental disabilities.  
  7. A dance performance at the School for the Performing Arts.  It was for children, with lots of furry woodland animals.  The best part was watching Nathan, who enjoyed it hugely, although he thought the squirrels were hyenas.
  8. Holiday baking, which is starting to loom large on my horizon.
  9. The big bag of blankets that were donated to the school by my friend Jeff from the Utah State Office of Education.
  10. The prospect of bed, since it is almost 2 AM. 


  1. Love the diary stories! Massive guilt here for not keeping a diary because I would love to have that history now, and I would love to be able to leave it for posterity. I have very little worthwhile memory left. If I ever develop Alzheimers - or whatever condition it is where you return to your childhood memories - there will be nothing to return to. I did keep a few diaries when I was a pre-teen, but unfortunately I made the mistake of going back and reading them a few years later and was so horrified by myself that I destroyed them. Mad at myself for doing that, but oh well! Too late now. :(

    Somehow I am not at all surprised by threatening attorneys on this subject. It fits in all its extreme silliness. Ah, the pettiness of divorce!

  2. God, the power of blogs, eh? This reminds me of a story (and you know how long winded I can be)...

    I once had a reader who was a frequent commenter on my blog. She was almost always the first to comment on anything I posted. She was also very, very complimentary about how much she loved my blog, etc. I read her blog too, but privately...I found it sort of boring. She read how-to books a lot and was always turning one sentence into a whole entry. ("Never a borrower or lender be" would turn into a long diatribe against credit debt.) I DID appreciate her readership, though. Well, she and her husband divorced and suddenly I started getting comments from HIM on my blog as well. And then I realized that this was how they were staying in contact, by leaving scathing little comments about each other ON MY BLOG. It was very, very odd. Several readers commented on it and finally, I stopped publishing their comments. Lost both of them. I always wonder what happened to them.

    Okay...I lied. I don't really wonder or care about what happened to them. Because I suppose I am shallow or something.

    I HATE it that your ex is so vulnerable and threatened that he can't handle your blog. I don't think you have ever been vicious or mean spirited, just honest about your thoughts. Maybe he worries that the children or relatives will think badly of him?

    I say do what you are doing. Give him a pseudonym and carry on. Can't touch you.

    Kate? I truly love your blog and would miss it if you left. And a whisper to your ear: As I read this last post, I kept wondering why you seemed so interested in dairies....

    Laughing here...but always laughing WITH you. Know that.