The Christmas I was 9, our mother began an annual practice of giving both her kids a daily diary, which, for the next three years, I virtually never wrote in except to scribble “Had Gym today” on every Tuesday that school was in session.
My older sister wrote in hers though. “Got a horse today,“ Nan fibbingly scribbled on one page of her own personal journal, and so I made a similar entry .Then, when she penned “my horse is expecting” some few days later, I told the identical whopper in my journal and never mind that these two facts could not have BEEN further from the truth for two children living (together with their mother and three ancient folks all born before the Election of 1876) on a narrow city street that trolley cars screeched past both day and night. The only thing that was true between the equine world and us was that we maybe accidentally smooched the televised images of Spin and Marty’s horses while going for the two Disney idols themselves. To put a finer point on it, kissing the TV screen during the Mickey Mouse Club show was basically the most adventurous thing either one of us did back then. So, apparently we thought it best to make stuff up.
But then, when we were in Sixth and Fourth grade respectively, our sweet resident old people died within 15 months of one another. And so, invited to live in a new city with our Aunt Grace and Uncle Jack, Mom closed up and sold the old house and moved there with us, to a street with no trolleys, no lamplighter at dusk, no dusty elderly man with a pushcart bleating “Raaaags!” in an effort to collect folks’ unwanted textiles
I did write in my diary in this new place, which to Nan and me resembled nothing so much as the set of a 60’s TV show with, instead of back alleys and in-ground garbage pails, there were kids on stilts and pogo sticks playing right out in the street. There were tough little crab apples for hurling at one another in the great The-Boys-Against-The-Girls wars, and endless games of kickball ,and skating on the crusty mirror of ice that Mr. Talbot conjured up every winter using just his flat backyard and a garden hose. THEN my entries were action-packed, all right, like this one when I threw my first party:
But they only became more “inner” when I fell in love.
Because in those days the Church said that kissing for more than five minutes was a Mortal Sin, I became haunted by a letter-of-the law-mentality that lurks just under the surface of most of my entries of my Middle School and High School years. I look now at the record of all that angst – about my immortal soul, and my homework, and whether or would do well enough in school to get a college scholarship – and how I do feel for that young girl drawing at the top of the diary’s pages a heart for the kissing, a church steeple to signify I had gone to Confession, a pair of googly eyes for the all-nighters I pulled trying to get those A’s!
At age 13, I developed a friendship with a girl so much like me that we would read one another’s diaries at the end of every year. Thus, Bobbie saw it all, right up to the time, when, still a ‘mere girl’, I fell in love for keeps, and decided together with this ‘mere boy’ of a guy that we would marry as soon as college was over.
Below is the letter she wrote me after reading my account of my very last year of life as an uncoupled person. It is a letter I found to be so loving when I drew it from between the pages of that year’s diary just now that I thought I would share it here. Here’s what wrote, in long-ago 1968, as she returned that year’s volume:
“Here you are, Terry dear. I will no longer read entries about the Aprils-Junes-Septembers in Terry’s life and you, I’m sure, will stop writing them if you haven’t already. Such a progression from the scrawly writing of the young, young Terry, and then Mike in eighth grade, and Nan’s boyfriend, and that near-death experience when she gave him the Ex-Lax valentine! All that and the pink and golds of heaven and on to next-door Dicky B. and bedroom windows with walkie-talkies between, and Kathy Rodger. and Peter Paul and Mary and of course a different boy and the overstuffed chair in the basement study where that interfering religion made a lovely thing so hard and tortuous.
“So many entries over the school years with your tiny top-of-the-page pictures of the weather, the days’ outfits, the little church spires and stars – and later only weights at the top of pages and notes reading “Oh God it’s 2am!” or “up at 5 sewing clothes” (or making that facsimile of a 12th century manuscript, or just plain writing papers.) Then Senior year and the end of Special Chorus and the Keith dances but Terry’s list of duties continuing, on to college, where most of the pages now are too recent to be memories ….Let’s never stop knowing each other.”
And we haven’t stopped.
I record all this today because I want to report that I never stopped writing the diary either and have just this last hour made the final entry in the 2018 volume. There are 61 of them now, all in a row, all stored in old National Geographic binders in a third-floor bookcase.
I don’t know who will ever read this centipede of a life story except maybe my children, if even they have the fortitude. I do know, however, what writing it has done for me. Week after week, month after month, year after year it has taught me to feel so very grateful for good friends like length of days and the peace of mind to live them out.