by Constance Daley
St. Simons Island, Ga.
February 14, 2011
TO BURN OR NOT TO BURN
ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. -- The thought that crossed my mind this morning was so incongruous I thought someone else must have been behind it.
I was struggling to slide a box under the bed. This was a big plastic box designed for blankets but now full of my voluminous diaries. In other days, my attitude had been "out of sight, out of mind," but today the thought of getting rid of them was suddenly paramount.
Burn them? Burn my diaries, the record of my life? I couldn't fathom that idea.
I finished the task and went about my business, but the thought hung on. I've been called a life-long diarist and I even teach classes on Journaling - basically on getting started. I've worked in historical societies, adult education classes at our local community college and in libraries.
But now I was thinking about what to do about my own collection of journals and I continue to wonder while, at the same time, I'm shocked at what I might decide.
My diaries served a purpose in my life, and the people I teach have a need to write. too, for their purposes. They need to get started and I am able to help - but that's all. Their own thoughts have to follow the learning how.
I started it becauase it was just what 11-year-olds do. That year, I was given a diary for Christmas with a little brass lock and key and its promise of privacy. No one would ever read my diary. I was free to say what I wanted to; it would be unheard of for someone to invade my privacy.
Wrong! I came into the house one day and my mother and two older sisters were laughing and I saw my diary open on the table in front of them. I yelped - literally yelped. I can see the humor now, but not then.
They were laughing at what I wrote because in my 5th grade scrawl, I made my "a" look like an "o." I had written "Errol Flynn [roped] two girls on his yacht." This was 1942. They apologized and then told me what it meant. "He sat them on his knee and they didn't like it," they said. It was years before I knew the true story.
I took up my diary again in high school, but learned to record my thoughts and not the news of the day. My thoughts took the form of imagining I were talking to a therapist, wondering why things weren't going my way; or, talking to God and asking for divine guidance in passing tests and making the cheerleader squad. As always, I counted on privacy.
Then, through the years. as I got married and bore seven children, my diary became a respite from preoccupations of the day and its closing hour - bedtime.
In his poem,The Children's Hour, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow said it this way:
Between the dark and the daylight, When the night is beginning to lower, Comes a pause in the day's occupations That is known as the Children's Hour.
Between the dark and the daylight,
When the night is beginning to lower,
Comes a pause in the day's occupations
That is known as the Children's Hour.
My name for the pause each evening was "Mom's Journal Time;" it wasn't The Diary of a Mad Housewife, it was just time out. I had no need to record what I did at the time and how I got through it. Every day was the same, more or less. If I want to see current events, I can pull up a timeline on the Internet.
Things I wanted to remember for always I might jot on the back of an envelope and slide it into the pages of the journal. I'll save those scraps and give them to my grown children so they can or cannot show them to their children. (I'm trying to assuage my guilt about what I proposed doing. Burn my diaries? Perish the thought!)
I'm also trying to find the principal gain for anyone who reads those pages. I guess anyone leading a similar life would learn what I had done and lived through - and so can they.
I noted the solar eclipse of March 7, 1970, and worried the children might dare to stare directly into the sun. That would not be so relevant now, in this Information Age.
It may be that lines at gas stations will become a reality agsin, as it once was to me. In 1973, we sometimes waited three hours to be allocated $5.00 worth of gas in a car with anywhere from three to seven children - but we did it.
The saving grace was that seat belts, and car seats were not mandatory, so we sat comfortably. I don't need journal entries to replay: "Remember the time we waited... ?" Nor do my children.
Did our home have typical teenage backtalk? Probably. But it didn't survive. Did it have the typical mother's tears? Probably. But I don't recall. Did our home have love and fun? Of course; that we will always remember.
As much as I loved a "time out" to commune with my thoughts each day, I don't need a review of my past to learn all about it. I was there. I already know.
But I will never burn my diaries.
My grown children are tangible evidence of my memories and reflections, and of my life. One day they will see them through my eyes.