Rearview: Diary daze with Kathryn Jenkins
Collecting memories is tougher than it seems I wish now that I’d written it all down, but too often at the end of the day, when I’m ready for bed, I’ve ended up scribbling a few lines about a minor health issue or having cleaned the car.
For most of my life I’ve kept a diary. On my tenth birthday I was given a chunky five-year one with a flimsy lock and key which, I later learned, my two older brothers had gleefully worked out how to open even before I’d put my name in it. Mercifully I was a rather naive youngster and untroubled by the thought that my secrets, fears and dreams were supplying siblings with more entertainment than they deserved. I took the diary seriously, recording daily what I’d had to eat and, out of a score of five, how much I’d enjoyed it: Spam fritters at school—five; Mum’s roasts—nil. I noted that, on wooden stilts, I’d got all the way to a friend’s house, and all the way back; another time, on squeaky roller-skates, the dog and I were whistled at by a boy I fancied. Doodling in a diary was de rigueur and doodling one’s future surname, based on a girlish crush, was considered neither a waste of time nor paper.
The five-year diary was abandoned after a while; as a teenager I needed something more sophisticated. Sitting at my parent’s old bureau, renamed the escritoire, with its tiny compartments, mysterious drawers and key-holes, I pictured myself as one of the Bronte sisters (I have the Yorkshire accent after all) even fashioning myself a quill from an exotic feather. I didn’t actually write with it; in reality I scribbled away on random bits of paper and who knows where they ended up. Memories lost!
Fast forward to today and things haven’t changed all that much. Food plays a big part in my life and so the buying, preparation and enjoyment thereof still get a mention in the daily entry, as do the gentle activities which keep me relatively fit. I still doodle regularly, but am no longer moved to start changing my last name!
At home, we sometimes share the writing of the diary. Some evenings the task can seem like an unwelcome chore and one of us begs the other to please do it because nothing comes to mind.
“Write it big,” I suggest, when we’ve had the day in town, but can’t recall anything of interest. There’s nothing more disheartening than looking back to find a blank space. How can we ever have been too busy or tired not to write something? I’ve tried leaving it, along with the last of the dishes, until the morning when I’m wide awake, but it’s no good. It’s hard to remember what we did the day before without a great deal of prompting and checking the calendar. We don’t always want to be bothered, but we do bother. Milestones get recorded, of course, but so do the little things.
His pen is poised. “What did you do in town today?” he asks. I sense he could be disappointed with my answer so I make something up, something quite sen-sational. “Really!?” he asks again, pen quivering. I shake my head. Then, with a little sigh, he notes in the diary that the weather was perfect for pruning the grapes.
Old diary entries remind me that I raked up six bags of leaves, froze five pounds of rhubarb or had a flu shot—doubtless important enough to recall on the day, but I often wish it had been more of how I felt than just a reference to the minutiae of daily life. Yet even the occasional hasty scribble at least gets it down on paper and provides a sense of relief and accomplishment, fullling that need to record my life. When I’m 100 and in my rocking chair, I’ll want to “play back” all this day-to-day stu: a brilliant home-made breakfast, a disastrous haircut, that surprise give. Our collective penned efforts at day’s end bring back the highs, the lows and the mundane. It’s all there, and all worth it, prompting conversation and keeping the memories alive. And, in the event of a re or ood, the diaries are what we’d grab rst. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve just got back from holiday and need to write up the days we’ve been away. And what will I write about? Wouldn’t my brothers like to know!
Photo by Fredrik Rubensson (flickr).