If you had only four short lines in which to write a synopsis of your day, what would you write?
Recently, my sister loaned me a diary that had belonged to our grandmother. I say “a” because the woman we called Nonnie kept more that one account of her life. She had one set of diaries in which she expressed her more personal thoughts about life. They contain her commentary of family squabbles and daily challenges, softened by pleasant surprises and common mercies. She filled one of these diaries each year.
Nonnie had other diaries that chronicled her life in short, rather abrupt statements. The one I have is a five-year diary. Each day is allotted only four lines, with entries for five consecutive years on each page. The point of such a diary is to record a brief summary of the day. The confined space forced one to sift through the events of that day and write only what stood out in it. Whatever was entered seemed to define the day—what it would be known for and how it would be remembered.
This was the kind of diary that one might keep on a bedside table. I can imagine my grandmother sitting in her bed at the end of a day—a crisp white nightgown, hair unfurled and neatly brushed, small lamp offering the last light. As a daily ritual, she picks up the small leather-bound book and finds the current date. Perhaps she pauses to review her entries from previous years and revisit those events in her memory. She probably lingers over some longer than others. Maybe she sighs as she dwells on them. Then, after contemplating the day she has just lived through, she takes her pen and chooses the words to capture its essence.
As I handle her diary, I am aware that there is something deeply personal about it. These are words the author never intended to be read by someone else. They are the private musings of a very private person. The book still clings to the scent of Nonnie’s favorite perfume—Shalimar. The fragrance of her presence is there when I open it. The distinctive writing on the pages is from her hand. My grandmother’s personality shows up in the forming of those words. At first, I was struck by the ordinariness of so many of those days. Now it’s more the significance of them together as part of a larger story
This particular diary has a special significance to me. It spans 1946 to 1950 … the year I was born. There is one entry that stands out to me. Late on a windy Friday in March, my grandmother began her four lines with, “Nancy (my mother) had a baby boy.” Hmmm.