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:

  1. Challenge your assumptions.
  2. If one method doesn’t work, try another.
  3. 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!

Mennonite Daughter