This post inspired by V.J.’s Weekly Challenge #36: Wild Card
…Go back over the last week’s worth of posts or so, and notice any words or phrases that repeat themselves. I’m talking adjectives, or verbs, maybe nouns.
Long ago at the age of 9, I received
…a small red diary with a key.
I was one among many children
Armed with a powerful place,
To preserve what happened…
in the illusion of privacy.
Safely locked up tight with a tiny key
Hung on a tiny ribbon.
So long ago
And so it began.
This writing life.
For me and many others
A lifetime ago.
Pouring out our secrets. The ups and downs. Today I went to school…After school I played outside...I collected bees in a jar…I poked holes in the lid…I did my homework…it was hard.
Scrawled sentences tucked in at day’s end…I got in trouble…I cleaned up the playroom…Nobody loves me…It is boiling hot out.
Today was an exciting day…we had hamburgers…went to the Dairy Queen. I watched: The Addams Family…Valentine’s Day and Gomer Pyle.
Important pages to a young writer
Who never imagined
They’d be such a treasure
Many years later
When the age of 9 would be…
Today I went to school. I brought my lunch. I wore my coolest dress because it was 90° Boy it was HOT. (grade 5)
Today I went to school. I brought my lunch. After school I did my homework…Then I played Army…We watched TV. (grade 5)
Today I went to school. It wasn’t my day. I brought my lunch… (grade 5)
When September rolls around, traditions click into place. Even irrelevant outdated ones – when entrenched in childhood, they still rise to the surface years later. Like the cream floating on milk in those half gallon bottles delivered by the milkman when I was 9.
But I digress.
More like whoops it’s past Labor Day, now I have to stop wearing white shoes. Which, again, is no longer relevant. I don’t even own white shoes.
Labor Day. My childhood diaries mark its significance. Labor Day meant getting ready for school, the beginning of school and the end of summer. And my white footwear was shoved to the back of the closet until the following Memorial Day. Which was fine with me, as I preferred my Keds.
I put dividers in my notebooks…Maddy came over and helped me organize my notebooks…(grade 6)
Today I went to school…I began to understand the Math…(grade 6)
Today I went to school. We had Math. Then Science…After lunch & Social Studies we had gym. We played keep-away football…(grade 6)
September = shopping trips for school clothes. Sensible dresses, skirts, shoes. One year: dresses with attached poor boy tops. And then just poor boy tops. A CPO jacket. Penny loafers. Or – after much begging and cajoling – a bra. My my. And finally, after more begging – stockings and a garter belt. This was years before girls could wear pants to school. A new pocketbook – at some point – with my own saved-up money. Bought at a discount store with a girlfriend. One year a madras style. One year with fringe. If possible, with zippers.
I attended 5 public schools from Kindergarten through 12th grade. There was always a wariness mixed with excitement before each school year started. Who would my teachers be? But mostly – who would the other girls in my class be? Would Diane be back to mock me and make me feel small? Damned if she didn’t follow me from school to school until we moved in my 6th grade year. Decades before bullying became a news headline, it was – of course – still rampant.
…Wore stockings to school. Had a terrible lunch – meatball hero. (grade 7)
Today I went to school…Came home and washed dishes, made salad & whip ‘n chill. (grade 7)
…My hair turned out great.* It stayed in all day. Even when it rained. (grade 7)
*Dippity-Do – another back-to-school must have. That stuff (plus pink plastic curlers) was magic for curling straight hair.
September = shopping for school supplies. I loved this part. Wandering the aisles at Valley Fair. The 1960’s version of Walmart plus Woolworth’s plus creaky wooden floors. Everything was in there – 45’s and pocketbooks and stockings and Wrangler dungarees and cheap cosmetics…and in September…a whole aisle of paper. All kinds. Notebook paper. Lined and unlined. Graph paper. Pads of paper. Yellow pads. White pads. Packs of pens and pencils hanging from hooks on display. Bic pens. Flair pens. Yellow pencils. Colored pencils. Blue three-ring binders. Black and white composition books. Smooth, blank and full of potential. Pink erasers. Notebook dividers. Pencil cases. Rulers. Protractors. When I discovered cartridge pens – with the little ink cartridges and calligraphy tips built right in: Jackpot Fancy.
Tried on dresses so Grammy could shorten some. (grade 8)
Went to school. Hot out…After school I went to Westwood. Got a new pocketbook – has a chain handle. (grade 8)
I usually got a hair cut. So did my sisters and brother.
Haircut. New dress. New shoes. Lunch. Notebooks and schedule. Ready to go.
Today I went to school. Today was the opening of the high school for all students. I really felt crowded today. The lunch was good…. (grade 9)
As I got older, September also marked changes in my after-school life.
Grammar school: Chores. Playing army with my brother. Or building a fort with my friend Kathleen. Riding my bike. Playing kickball in the street.
High school: Chores and babysitting my siblings. Lots of babysitting my siblings. Listening to records & AM radio. Talking on the phone, shopping or baking with my girlfriends. At their houses. At Wendy’s it was snickerdoodles. At Vikki’s it was fudge. Or maybe we just ate her mother’s fudge, because she was such an amazing baker. Vikki and I used to joke that we would widen our doors for each other when we got older. Forecasting the obesity that never materialized.
…back to September and another tradition…
First Day of School Picture
Went to school…We had to write an imaginary story in English about what we would do with a super power. I picked invisibility. The lunch here is so much better than last year…On the way home the bus broke down & we had to change busses to get home…(grade 9)
My writing life started with diaries – the kind with the tiny keys. Keys implying a privacy that wasn’t actually possible. But which gave a 9 year old a sense of importance. Tucking away private thoughts in a safe space. A comforting fantasy. Trusting that the key really worked.
As I got older, diaries (keys long gone) were followed by small spiral lined notebooks (written with an orange Flair pen – this was, after all, the ’70’s). Next… black hardcover “blank books.” And then back to small spiral notebooks and thick journals. I actually preferred the printed lines to guide my sometimes erratic handwriting; angled in anger or loopy with emotion. I went through a calligraphy stage in college and carefully inked my thoughts with spaced precision. An art form! And since I was the sister who was NOT the artist, I felt mighty proud about that.
My good friend Debbie gave me a new 8 1/2″ x 11″ black blank book when we were both 20 and about to start sharing an apartment – a first for both of us. We would finish up our last 1 & 1/2 years of college together.
She filled the first page:
Here is the book you wanted. It means so much to have a book like this…to write down thoughts, feelings….watch how you grow, how your feelings change and how much more aware you become when you read back through it…
The second and third pages contained Pink Floyd lyrics from “Dark Side of the Moon.”
Breathe, breathe, in the air…Don’t be afraid to care…Leave, but don’t leave me…Look around and choose your own ground….
I followed Debbie’s directions and kept filling that journal off and on for almost 18 years. (It didn’t come with a key. I wonder if it should have.) I was as open with my written words at 20 and 25 and 30 as I was at 9 and 10. Kind of shocking really. And now sometimes embarrassing – and painful – to see my heart splayed open on the page over and over, year after year.
Entries became sporadic and eventually just covered major life events – or the night before major life events – as I pondered their significance. Marriage. Career. Parenthood. Family dramas. Joy. Grief. Loss. I started and stopped various notebooks, journals and blank books. A brand new one always a hard-to-resist invitation to begin again. Maybe it was the fresh, smooth paper & its possibilities…like getting new notebook paper, pens and pencils for the start of school each September.
At the ripe old age of 27 – about 2 weeks before the birth of my first child I wrote…
It seems that the older I get, the faster life goes by…We Are Going To Be Parents!!…It will probably be the most important thing we do….”
The next entry (in that journal) was 10 years later when I had a weekend away by myself. By then I had a second child and a consulting job. I was still in my thirties. The 4 page summary began with…
Motherhood has changed my life more than anything else before it.
And ended with…
After all these years I’m finally starting to acknowledge that there’s another side of me that’s been buried – perhaps a more creative side – I’m not sure…”
Looking back, I was spot-on about the motherhood thing.
…I also have several well worn notebooks filled with stories of all the amazing, funny, and truly one of a kind things my 2 children ever said or did.
Truly like no other kid ever in the history of the world. Obviously. For example: How many 8 year old boys do you know who can make an earring out of a Cheerio? And whose mother wrote a story about it?