Monday, June 14, 2010

Forty Years Ago Today

A brief and somewhat more personal blog entry. Today is the 40th anniversary of the start of my journal. On June 14, 1970, I made my third attempt to keep a daily journal. The third time was the charm, because I've kept it for 14,611 days (though I have to admit that I missed a day in August 1977 and didn't discover the omission for several years).

Personal diaries and journals are a wonderful way for us to look at someone's life from that person's perspective. My grandmother Anna Bell LaFever kept a diary. I've only seen her diary kept from the late 1940s - I've often wondered if she kept one earlier, but it hasn't surfaced yet if she did. My mom, Leona LaFever, started a diary about a year after I did and she kept it until a few months before her death in 2006, with some gaps due to illness. For the year after my dad's passing in 2004, she wrote the entries as if she were writing to my dad. Mom also had a diary from the year she was 17. I remember seeing it as a kid and at some point, mom expressed embarrassment at it and thought she might destroy it. The historian in me was not too happy, but it was her diary - it was hers to do with as she wished. But she did not destroy it. Instead, when I found it after her passing, it had a four page note inserted in it, written the year she turned 60 and obviously intended for her children to find. In the note, she explained the diary and her circumstances at the time. She talked about all the people in the diary, what happened to them, and what happened to her. She noted that whenever she felt a bit blue because she wasn't a young anymore, it took reading just one page of the diary to make her glad that those years were behind her.

When historians do look at diaries, we have to remember that they usually reflect only one perspective, but often that's just what the historian wants and needs. Many diaries can have things that just won't make sense - that's part of the fun and the challenge for historians. I expect some components of my diaries will very much puzzle future readers. I remember an entry during my first ever trip to England in 1973 when I commented that everything was very 'church like.' I suspect substantial portions of my journal will simply bore those same historians. Diaries are kept to chronicle activities, but can be also therapeutic for the writer and often are not written with posterity in mind.

Another diary puzzle can be caused simply by penmanship. Mom's teenage diary is a challenge because she tried to write so much in a small space. Some entries spill over into the margins and you have to turn the book every which way in order to read it. My problem is that I simply have awful handwriting - sometimes I can't read things I've written. Though I tried to be careful with my penmanship in my journal, often printing my entries, I wasn't always successful. Since 1988, I've kept the journal electronically - I type better than I write.

Ok, so what did that first entry say? You asked for it: "It was cold this morning - 38 degrees. After the paper route, I slept. Mom and Dad went flying and I went to the Community baseball game. Our team won but I didn't help with the victory. We went to the ice cream store after Mom and Dad got home. Tommorrow (sic) is the last full day of school. I have tests."

Some explanations: That's not minus 38 - I used (and still do use) dashes a lot. The paper route I had was to deliver the Binghamton Sunday Press to about 20 people in the hamlet. I left about another 15 papers at the Bovina creamery for outlying farmers to pick up when they delivered their milk. I was an early bird, usually out of the house to make the deliveries (by bike in the summer and, sometimes, by sled in the winter). The flying refers to my Dad, who flew single engine planes out of Cooperstown/Westfield airport. The ice cream store likely was in Delhi. And that misspelling of tomorrow is a trait that still plagues me occasionally (or ocassionally, as I sometimes spell it!).

There are a number of diaries on the web from people with Bovina connections. And there are other diaries in and around Bovina. In future blog postings, I'll talk about some of these. But for now, I just marvel that I know exactly what I was doing 40 years ago today.

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