I wasn’t sure it would open. So my husband Cliff gathered assorted tools in case the clasp on Aunt Ruthie’s Diary had clamped shut with rust.
A faux-leather, brown diary with an attached key has lain on my desk for years now. Ever since we cleared out Aunt Ruthie’s house in 2017, this diary from the 1930s has lain besides the others, its tantalizing key attached with a still-glossy lavender ribbon.
I didn’t blink an eye as my husband experimented with opening the clasp. We assumed it was locked because of the attached key. Inserting the key. . . no luck. For a few minutes, Cliff tried moving the button back and forth in a horizontal motion. As it turned out, the diary was not locked and the button opened upward, not horizontally, as the keyhole to the left would suggest.
Inside, I found entries from a 5-year span, 1935-1939. Born in 1918, Aunt Ruthie would have been between the ages of 17-21 when she wrote these entries.
The diary was designed like none I’ve ever seen. She, the diarist, could write on the same page five years in a row.
Sometimes Aunt Ruthie filled all the dates on every page, especially in her teen years. Later on, I assume when she became busier or more distracted, some dates showed no detail. Many days in the year 1938 were blank; most days in the year 1939 showed no notations either. Perhaps she was busy in her early years of teaching school by then.
I was beyond thrilled that she often wrote in ink. Most of her diaries in the 1940s were pencil written, the hand-writing faded and hard to decipher. She also varied between cursive and print, maybe because it would make the yearly entries easier to distinguish.
Some lessons learned in our 7-minute experience opening the diary:
- Challenge your assumptions.
- If one method doesn’t work, try another.
- If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.
Of course, these are clichés, but they endure for the simple reason that they’re TRUE!
I don’t think Aunt Ruthie worried about hiding secrets in her diary. She probably didn’t think anyone would be interested in a life she probably regarded as ordinary.
What do you think?
Entries from this diary will appear in my upcoming book, tentatively titled My Checkered Life: Heritage, Hassles, and Hilarity.
There’s still time to gift yourself (or another reader) with a copy of Mennonite Daughter: The Story of a Plain Girl. Available in e-book or print. Click HERE!
Good morning, Marian! Did you wait all this time to open the diary, or were you describing a few years back?
That is interesting to be able to compare dates for several years. There are some interesting snippets here.
I wonder where Joe (?) was going all the time, too. And did she write at the end that she doesn’t know a lot about socialist?
Good luck with your next book!
Good morning, Merril! I see the diary has piqued your interest. Great! It’s not so much that I “waited” to open the diary, it more that I concentrated on the multiple diaries from decades closer to the time that I knew her. Another factor: Reading the entries is tedious; I’m using my iPhone magnifier, but it still takes a while.
Thanks always for tuning in early with your thoughts! 😀
This is so interesting. It’s a similar idea to my “happy journal” that I’ve kept for 7 years. It has the exact format, which I love. https://www.amazon.com/Happiness-Project-One-Sentence-Journal-Five-Year/dp/0307888576/ref=sr_1_4?crid=12W295KZGECIS&keywords=the+happiness+project+book&qid=1639571559&sprefix=the+happiness+p%2Caps%2C166&sr=8-4
Jill, I clicked on the link and saw that the diary has over a thousand (1000+) positive reviews. You’re in good company. With your super-busy life, I imagine that the 4-5 lines provided daily are just enough. What a treasure you have, perhaps even a companion-piece to a memoir down the road. (I’m only half kidding.! 😀
It makes for a great gift! What I like most is seeing what made me happy the prior years. It sparks so many memories.
You pass that spark of joy on to your readers day after day. Thanks for the follow-up here, Jill. 😀
Ohhh, thanks for sharing this link and info about the happiness journal. I just ordered one for me (thanks Marian for the inspiration from Aunt Ruthie and your great post) and one for a good friend. So grateful for both of you!
I have a bucket of diaries that my grandparents kept throughout their lives. My mother and my two cousins have read them, but I haven’t been able to face deciphering the handwriting.
Deciphering the handwriting is daunting, I’m discovering first hand. But also, some of the language is quaint and sometimes it’s hard to make sense of the context. Just a generation removed from the setting does make a difference. Thanks for adding this, Liz. 😀
You’re welcome, Marian. There are those boxes of letters, too. 🙂
How exciting it must have been to finally get the diary opened! I’ve never seen that method of leaving space to write on the same page on several years; that’s rather clever as you can compare changes or experiences. Your posts are always so interesting, Marian! Thanks for sharing again
I’m so glad you enjoyed this, Maria. Yes, it is quite a discovery! 😀
Marian — I love that the diary offers a five-year glimpse on ONE page! Not only for the person reading it multiple decades after it was written, but for Aunt Ruthie. When she sat down to write, she could see exactly what happened at the same time the previous year(s).
Because I’m trying to decipher the printing and/or handwriting, I haven’t thought of the diary from Aunt Ruthie’s point of view. Yes, indeed!
Thanks for checking in again today, Laurie. 😀
Seeing that diary reminds me of a pink diary with a key that I had when I was in third grade, My brothers used to try to read it. I kept it locked because of that.
So glad you got that diary open!
Linda Marie, I’m guessing you still have that precious diary. I wonder what secrets it may hold. Possibly a blog post at some point? Diary entries curated, of course. Ha! 😀
I hope not have many happy hours reading (& maybe finding a secret or two)! Lol I gave both of my grandmas covered journals to write their stories but they didn’t get too far. One grandma misunderstood I think, so mostly wrote an annual report on the Gulf War. 🙃
There are some revelations, of course. I didn’t know much about Aunt Ruthie’s life when she was a teenager. I’m finding the handwriting a little hard to decipher, especially when she resorted to using pencil. I AM discovering she was very expressive about her feelings, not always found among Mennonite women of that era.
She must have felt safe about showing emotion in a diary she may have thought no one else would be interested in. Thanks for swinging by with your thoughts, Jenn. 😀
Hi Marian, it is rather lovely that you have your aunt’s diary. It is true that things often need to be challenged. My ability to see things differently to other people is why I am so successful in my job.
I love the fact that you, an author, poet, and culinary artist, also work in high finance. That tells me that you use both sides of your brain, the analytical and the creative side. No wonder you are so successful in your job. To an extent, my Aunt was like that too: She loved bookkeeping but also painted in oils. Thank you for adding your delightful bit, Robbie! 😀
Finding these old treasures is exciting and may have wonderful beginnings for new writings. A novel perhaps??
Joan, thanks for the suggestion. I’m thinking of adding excerpts from Aunt Ruthie’s diary as new materials for my next book, tentatively titled My Checkered Life: Heritage, Hassles, and Hilarity. We’ll see. I’ve never ventured into fiction, but I wouldn’t rule anything out. 😀
That’s funny, you two got the surgical team ready and the diary wasn’t locked, lol. But wow, it surely has stood the test of time. It’s like looking into a time capsule. <3
As you may guess, Cliff engineered the opening. I guess it’s the Boy Scout in him. He’s also into “overkill” when it comes to prep for anything mechanical. lol
You got that right: It IS like looking into a time capsule. Thanks for pointing that out, Debby! 😀
Yes, my engineer guy would have done the same. Smiling….
My mom had a similar diary and she packed so much in on each page. The writing is so small. I have it with me now. We had to cut the strap to open it. Mom was between 13 and 18 when she kept the diary. It will be great to learn more about her as a girl. As you will enjoy reading about Aunt Ruthie´s life.
I guess we get our writing chops from our female relatives. Aunt Ruthie’s diary is legible, just barely, but one day she had sooo much happen she wrote in what I would guess is 4-point font size. Even with my iPhone magnifier is was decipherable. She was between 17-21 during the diary years. You have a treasure, Darlene. Thanks for sharing here! 😀
I like the summary of the lessons you learned while working on a lock that seemed to be stubborn, but was just different than you expected it to be! I give up too easily, but Hardy never gives up! Both extremes are not good, we should have found a happy median by now.
Well, I see you and Hardy as complementary. Maybe two extremes = one happy medium. Always good to hear your opinion, Elfrieda. 😀
Oh what a treasure to find! I have seen those types of journals where you can write more than one year on a page but never bought them thinking I’d have too much to say – LOL.
Janet, it’s great to see your smile here. I guess buying a journal of that sort would force you to summarize. LOL! 😀
Getting your thoughts and observances down on paper can be quite a task! These days so many use a keyboard. Can you just imagine reviewing her diary from the eyes of someone who has graphology training. What those differing letters and styles might reveal!
That’s interesting, Ginger. I wonder if a graphologist’s analysis of Aunt Ruthie’s character, personality, and abilities would match my own.
I’m not a graphologist, obviously, but I am trying to decipher the words to get the gist of what she wrote, quite a task even with a magnifier. It’s good to hear from you. Thanks, Ginger!
Fascinating! A lovely share of a family treasure…
I agree. Thank you, Bette! 😀
Hi Marian – I also like the way the diary is constructed so you can have the years all together. I remember that style of diary with the key. I had a couple more modern ones like that when I was a girl – the key was always the same!
Thanks for offering your knowledge about the key, the key to unlock many “girlish” secrets, Barbara! 😀
Very unusual style with several years on one page—I’ve never seen that before. It ‘s a cool way to understand what she was going through at the time. My mom was the journal keeper in our family. She recorded even the most mundane things in some of the notebooks I came across.
Jill, another commenter, mentioned she’s kept a “Happy Journal” for 7 years with this exact format, which I’d never seen before either.
Well, it sounds as though your mom was like the British diarist Sam Pepys. He ended his entries often with the phrase “And so to bed.” Very mundane, but he appears in most English Lit anthologies. Thanks for tuning in, Pete! 😀
It’s always an eerie feeling, reading someone else’s thoughts – even if you suspect they never meant them to be secret. What a treasure the diary is.
Yes, diaries provide a way to get into the mind and emotions of another person very easily, and perhaps eerily too. I knew Aunt Ruthie best from the ages 30-90+ and I must say I could never imagine her as a teenager. . . until now. Thanks for weighing in here, Arlene!
1937: In ink, she wrote “From early morn till late at night, I study. study. study. Then ??? went grand today. Happy Landing.” I was glad for her happy landing. Her drive reminds me of my own striving, so I loved that phrase “Happy Landing.” What a find and to have a gentle patient accomplice in breaking into the unlocked diary. I hope you two laughed. I loved this and know my blogs are my diary these days. Blessed Solstice, Joyful Christmas, and Peace-filled New Year to you, Marian.
Aunt Ruthie was focused but could have fun too. She and Grandma L. (her mother) laughed especially at mealtime. One time they had to catch themselves from falling off their chairs. It probably happened other times when I wasn’t looking.
I like that you chose the phrase “breaking into” as I am a snoop these days but ironically no need to break in because the diary was already unlocked. Thanks, Elaine, for all of the good wishes! 😀
How wonderful, Marian I have never seen/heard a diary with 5 years to a page…I write everything in mine so it might be quite boring when someone reads them but also a record of happenings… a mixed bunch 🙂
Diaries are usually a mixed bunch, but in it are gems. In Aunt Ruthie’s case, a glimpse into an earlier era, a strange time to a 21st century girl. Thanks for checking in today, Carol! 😀
It was a pleasure to share that glimpse 🙂 x
I had the same question as Merril, which you answered right at the top. I have just taught a lesson to my writing students about the importance of journaling every day if possible. About all the health benefits of journaling. Your Aunt Ruthie was a woman ahead of her time – in so many ways!
You are providing creative therapy to your students, besides the writing experience, of course. Yay, for passing on the passion you preach, Pam!
And thanks for reading, commenting, and even checking out the comments. Cheers! 😀
I can’t wait!!! I thought we would read Aunt Ruthie’s words now! 🙂 I understand why though and I am looking forward to traveling back to another era in the shoes of a very interesting woman (discovered from past posts.) I remember her clever sense of humor too and am eager to read the “hilarity” entries. 🙂 I like your Aunt Ruthie and what a blessing you have her diaries.
Sometimes I have vacillated between publishing parts of Aunt Ruthie’s diary and just abandoning the project with the thought “Who’d want to read this?” Your encouragement seals the deal!
I remember also feeling ambivalent about putting my memoir out in the world too. No regrets there. Thanks so much for this, Melanie. Your words are powerful. ;-D
Oh, Marian! What a kind response. ♥ I am touched that you saw something here that “sealed the deal.” It was your writing that brought her to us and engaged us so you’ve totally got this!! And now the fun twist is that Aunt Ruthie is literally joining the conversation. 🙂
Of course, she is. And would she ever be surprised. She knew how to operate a cash register and a calculator, but never a computer. When she lived at Landis Homes her mouth would fall open when I showed her photos on my iPhone or blog posts on my laptop. She’d be awed by recent developments, that’s for sure.
Thanks for returning with a follow-up here, Melanie!
Aunt Ruthie’s diary is a treasure. Moments in time.
As for what you learned…
Yes, challenge your assumptions.
Yes, if one method doesn’t work, try another.
Yes, if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.
[And as my husband would say…]
Then throw some money at it.
I wonder if your husband works in finance. (Certainly NOT in money-laundering.) Seriously, Zen-Den may be right, Ally Bean. Thanks!
Cliff to the rescue with a push of a button (this time it was the button to start the scanning process).
Many days when I walked by or into Marian’s writing studio I saw her struggling, at first with a large magnifying glass and then with her iPhone camera, trying to wave it around just enough to enlarge and try and make out Ruthie’s handwriting (often in pencil) to find meaning in her daily 1935-1939 diary. I felt so sorry for her I had to do something!
I tried all kinds of pre-adjustments before scanning and finally was able to tweet four major adjustments on my Epson scanner to darken and contrast the entries. When each entry was scanned at high resolution the settings worked out well.
I told Marian this was going to be kind of a Christmas present for her. 7 hours later (over 3 days) I completed the job today. NOW she will be able to speed up reading the Ruthie’s diary entries–and get them into her next book, My Checkered Life.
This is a honey of a deal, and a magnanimous Christmas present. I got to the beginning of April with my awkward set-up. Now I can “re-trace” my steps with serious scans from January to December.
Aunt Ruthie would be amazed at our scrutiny. Knowing about it may even be disconcerting to her, an unpretentious Mennonite woman of the 20th century.
Huge thanks for the nearly 13 gigabytes of info retrieved. You’re awesome! ((( )))
My anticipation would be high before trying to open this diary, Marian! I’m glad it worked out okay and nothing had to be destroyed. Sometimes, when we expect the worst (and prepare for it), this doesn’t appear necessary at all.
I’d never seen a diary with this concept either. A five-year journal. And so small. Now this would certainly save me time and make me focus in the priorities of each day. Right now, it takes me close to an hour to write my diary every day!! Because it’s digital. And I’m wordy. There were years in my past, where I only allowed myself to fill out one page a day. Much less time consuming! And, I never reread/proofread those hand-written diaries either…
Liesbet, I know your diary enabled the detail of your memoir, but I didn’t know that now you spend almost an hour daily writing in your diary. A treasure indeed. I like that you don’t proofread your hand-writing. You’d drive yourself crazy doing that. 😀
Yes, I had a diary like that and one sister did too–five years on one page. It has some advantages. I now journal on my laptop. Wonder if my daughters will ever want to wade through pages of ordinary hunting for the hidden, the gems, the episodes they want to preserve too. I’m amazed you waited that long to open your beloved aunts’.
That’s a bingo for you, a diary with five-years per page. Great! Now you journal on your laptop. I still handwrite entries in my gratitude books, a practice that’s gone on for years now.
I’m not sure why I didn’t open this diary before now except I was more interested in the yearsI knew her, thinking she might mention me as her young niece (checking out birthdays) and then as her student later on in elementary school, the material often fodder for blog posts.
Thanks for weighing in, Melodie. 😀
Marian, I should add I did not keep the diary. I don’t know when I got rid of it, or if it got lost. It was not a great diary. 🙁
Yes, Melodie, I understand.
I think that no life is ordinary Marian . What you have in your hands is a piece of history . Not just your family history but social history . Just what your Aunt ate tells us what life was like in that period .
Have you heard of the English poet William Wordsworth? I have a diary by his sister Dorothy Wordsworth this is just everyday entries but boy ! what it tells us about the landscape of the Wordsworth’s life was amazing .
As for endurance, my Dad would always say, when I stamped my feet because I couldn’t do something , ‘Cherry , you can do anything if you only try. ‘ I always remember those words when I’m in a fix.
I’m also amazed at the endurance of my husband ( no not being married to me for a record 34 years 😁) when he don’t have a particular tool for a difficult job ,he just invents one out of thin air like a magician. Don’t tell he I told you though because I’ll have to get him a bigger hat 🤭
Cherry, your chats here are so entertaining. This one is no exceptio, of course. Yes, I am aware that this precious diary is a piece of my aunt’s history but reflects the era…her language also is quaint when she was a teen, also reflecting the times.
And, yes, Wordsworth was tops on my list when I taught Romantic Lit. Both William and Dorothy. We visited Dove Cottage on our tour of the England many years ago. No wonder they were inspired…the countryside is simply breathtaking.
Obviously, you love and admire your husband, inventor extraordinaire. Just a thought: Maybe you can get him a bigger hat for Christmas — haha! 😀
I like the idea of 5 years on one page Marian. Those years between the age of 17 and 21 are special years for any young woman. 5 years starting now in similar fashion to Aunt Ruthie, is something I’ll consider. More like in my instance 5 years between 73 and 78 ~
A blessed Christmas to you and family. ❤️