The Diaries of Our Youth
"Had the goofiest assembly today. I almost died when
the teacher came in and said that he supposed we were talking
about the same thing that the boys had been talking about. If
only he knew!"
-Thelma Plaine, 1933
"This morning I had nothing better to do, so I read The
Life Story of Abe Lincoln. I read it because I couldn't find any
comics to read."
- Sunny Plaine, 1963
"Here I am at camp. Camp hasn't exactly started yet,
and I guess I've been here for half an hour. I'm not sure because
I can't find the purple watch Mom was supposed to pack."
- Lauren Schlenger, 1993
Sixty years separate these diaries of a grandmother, daughter
and granddaughter - my mom, myself, and my now 23-year old. But
would you think it was 60 if you weren't reading the dates?
Diaries are time capsules that remind us that we all were once
children, sharing the same sorts of experiences that all children
share. Evidence of our youth, those infamous diaries, don't often
survive into adulthood. Embarrassed by our thoughts, dreams, indiscretions,
or even just poor handwriting, we frequently toss them aside as
easily as an outgrown pair of jeans. And what a shame that can
Of all the touchstones linking us to days gone by, diaries are
the most riveting. After all, they describe, in our own words,
exactly what it was like to attend school assemblies, live in
our bedrooms, and go to summer camp. First love, heartbreak, bad
grades, special teachers. Small triumphs, larger ones, wishes
coming true. History unfolding: "
I just can't believe
that President Kennedy is dead! It's not possible! He was so young!
It's not fair!!" (11/22/63). And the precious mundane
details of everyday life: "
School news - Gym: I
have 3 minuses as of now. 2 for skipping showers and one for forgetting
my socks." (2/27/65).
Diaries, journals, notebooks and scrapbooks all make it onto
my list of true essentials. To me, the long-ago thoughts of my
family are more valuable than their set of monogrammed silver.
My mom only kept one diary that I know of -- a three month long,
pocket-sized version as part of pledging a sorority in high school.
There were no deep, dark secrets; just the fascinating minutia
of teen-age obsessions such as clothes-shopping and going to the
Got up at 11:00 this morning. Fooled around
until 1:00 trying on summer clothes which just didn't fit. Went
to the movies and saw "Broadway Bad" with Joan Blondell."(4/11/33).
My 1963's version: "
Mom and I went shopping today
and ate at Liberty Pharmacy. I got the cutest outfits in Mitchell's,
for school. They're really sharp. And then we went to the movies
to see "Flipper". (8/17/63) My entries do get more
melodramatic with age, and I have to admit that I've been tempted
to get rid of them more than once. But then I remember my mother's
story of how she threw out her older sister's diaries when her
sister got engaged. She was trying to be "helpful" by
sparing her sister the possibility that her future husband would
read about her former loves. Her sister was not amused.
I'm so glad that I saved mine. There was a time when Lauren was
a moody adolescent and was convinced that I could never understand
how she was feeling. I pulled out a diary from my own Misunderstood
Period and read to her a rant about how my parents just didn't
"get it". In that moment she accepted that I really
did remember what it was like to be 13.
A few words of caution here: Decide which memorabilia you're
comfortable sharing, and which you'd rather not make public after
you're gone. That's one of the reasons it's so important to re-visit
your Stuff while you can still make good decisions about its disposition
-- No overwhelming job for your heirs, and no unpleasant discoveries
for them, either.
One more entry, from my diary of October, 1966: "
borrowed Terri's Turtles album and it's fantastic! One of the
songs, "Eve of Destruction", even though it's old, still
makes you stop and think. I wonder what the world's gonna be like
when I read this 25 years from now, if it's still around, that
is. Will the Viet Nam War, protest songs, demonstrations, draft-card
burnings and all that be passé?..."
25 years from now
I still wonder.