I now have proof of what I’ve long suspected: my memory bank is as porous as a kitchen sponge.

I can recount – in detail – youthful incidents where I behaved stupidly or where circumstances piled up against me. But moments of youthful glory? Not so much.

One day while I was rummaging around in a closet looking for an old photo, I spotted four diaries in a box. My diaries. My invitation to revisit late high school, my studies at Ryerson, and my early years of married life.

Now, these books do NOT reveal my deepest, secret feelings – praise be! – but are instead a brief recounting of the day’s (or month’s) highlights. Still, there was enough there to make me shred the diary from Ryerson, which was clearly written by someone else. Who could possibly spend so much time focused on her social life? At least the final years mentioned my journalism studies from time to time. But as someone who so recently exposed her grandmother’s letters in a book, I am not about to leave this diary for some enterprising relative of the future.

Even with the diaries I’ve kept, I feel compelled to send thank-you cards to anyone who is still my friend despite my younger self. That former self is probably still lurking in my psyche, but I swear to God I have evolved as a human being.

Long, long ago

The Grade 12 – 13 diary not only revealed what I don’t remember, but also what I didn’t know. Ask me to describe my teenage self and I would have used words like shy, bookish, loner, awkward. And there’s truth in that list. But as I read this diary, I decided the key word was “awkward”.

I DID have friends, including from the dreaded opposite sex. I DID like to socialize. I DID like to go out. I just didn’t know what to make of it all. One of my favourite entries was about a guy telephoning to ask me on a date and I turned him down because I planned to study on the weekend. What?? (As a mother of sons, I feel sorry for the guy, who didn’t deserve such a clumsy rebuff.)

Reading this diary, I recognize events – a class party at a cottage, for example – that would have been A Very Big Deal. I probably agonized about what to wear, who would be there, what I should say, etc. etc. After the party, I probably dissected the minutiae of every exchange. The diary entry has a bit of description – I drove to the cottage accompanied by my longtime friend Anne Forde (Hartwick); I mention some of the partygoers and even what we ate. It was clearly a significant outing – and I have absolutely no memory of it! (Judging by my memory of other events, I am guessing what this means is that nothing embarrassing happened.)

Actually, writing this does make me realize I need to be nice to Anne. She knows too much. After all, she and I went from building forts and rafts on our family farms, to jumping head-first into teenage angst, with all of its adventures and miseries. At least Anne was able to make her mark in high school playing sports, while I balanced my worries about academics with worries about whether anyone would ask me to dance at the summer dancehall in Hastings, Ont.

And this brings to mind another dear friend, Susan Quinlan, who was a regular partner in crime for these and various other outings. I suspect Susan has a secret plan for funding her retirement years: she will simply threaten to tell the world everything she knows about me and I will hand over every penny of my meagre fortune. (Step carefully, Susan! I will retaliate by exposing the fact that we once attended a professional wrestling match. And there’s more where that came from…)

If you’re happy and you know it…

Dwight and I as tender young 20-somethings.

The diaries covering my early days living in Kitchener conjured a different set of emotions. I see deep happiness, fulfilment and optimism. Did I know enough to be happy at the time? I certainly hope so. My husband Dwight and I had landed good jobs at the Kitchener-Waterloo Record – Dwight as a photographer and me as a news copy editor – and although entries touch on competing work shifts, stressful news cycles and job placements where I felt in over my head, they also mention supportive colleagues and a range of opportunities.

Occasionally, a Sunday entry would describe something I do remember well – a full morning spent drinking coffee, listening to CBC radio and reading the Sunday New York Times. I.e. a news junkie’s fix.

But there were also many entries I barely remember. Numerous outings with our friends Ron Eade and Jane Wilson, for example, who had lured us to The Record after our shared work life at the Peterborough Examiner. Dwight had to stop reading part way through these recollections: the diary’s breezy tone was just too much when paired with the reality of what was to come. Jane died of cancer at age 42. Ron is gone now too. Surely, we should have shared more dinners, gone for more walks, enjoyed more concerts, laughed much louder.

Cecil the cat and Cindy the dog join me for this silly celebration of pregnancy

Our son Nick’s arrival in the diaries is a breath of fresh air. Finally, my actual memories are reflected in the diary’s pages. I see the intense joy, indulgence, worry and occasional bravado of first-time parents. Most entries are quick hits, but I am grateful for any detail  – the first smile, the first words, and especially the life-altering moment when Nick, just 15 months old, discovered the world of music (Dizzy Gillespie on the Muppet Show).

When I read these entries, I truly regret that I don’t have diaries for all of the moments ahead, especially after we became a family of four – and the guys emerged as young adults.

The pandemic, which our politicians tell us is over, makes the diaries extra poignant. How I wish I had a diary for 2019 so I could truly see all the ways ordinary life was so special. I would use it to embrace what’s ahead, all those brief entries that merge into a day, a week, a month, a life.

3 thoughts on “Diaries capture life’s forgotten moments

  1. Such a good read. I always admire those who have the emotional capacity to keep a diary. Personally I always find my past to be too close to the surface for my own comfort. This post is therapeutic for the likes of me.

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  2. RIGHT?! I feel like I’ve forgotten 80% of what happened in my past, and were it not for my journal entries, I’d have forgotten so much about my yesteryears. That’s the only reason why I think I journal. To help differentiate one day from another. Anyway, thanks for sharing a summary of yours.

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