I am the recipient of many diaries. My grandfather assiduously kept a diary. My father kept a diary. My grandfather’s diary revealed a man involved in the workings of his farm, church, and community. He also was a carpenter. On one occasion, he discussed building a dining room table for someone. Another day, he built a coffin for five dollars. He stopped a fight between two neighbors and wrote in his dairy that he judged, “Dan to be at fault.” My father’s diary revealed a man passionate about his mission. Although his family was of great importance, on the day I was born, my birth barely received an entry.
Many years ago, I was given a diary written by one Lillie McTighe, a young, single woman. She lived with her sister and brother-in-law, and they were strict. She was an excellent seamstress and worked in a dress shop for a time. She played the organ for her church. She was talented but miserable. On May 10, 1876, Lillie wrote , “I have resolved to make a change.” She eventually became a schoolteacher.
One day when I was browsing in antique shop, I happened across a diary also written in 1876. It was kept by a young man who wrote across the front of it, “A School Teacher’s Diary.” I purchased it.
Lillie McTighe used her diary to vent frustrations about her strict brother-in-law who gave her “lectures” each time she received a letter from a certain Mr. Cavanaugh. I have often wondered about Mr. Cavanaugh and what about him that made Lillie’s relatives so angry. On March 30, 1876, she wrote, “Have been sick all day but have been working all the time. Practiced about four hours, got dinner, and done the work. Worked some buttonholes in my night dress, received a letter from Augusta. Pleasant day but cold.” I mention that last comment, because without fail, everyone who keeps a diary, seems to feel compelled to write about the weather.
My 1876 “ School Teacher’s” diary revealed a young man of 21, who taught school in one-room building with children as young as five and as old as seventeen. On November 27, 1876, he wrote, “I had one more Scholar on Monday, making 40 on the Roll.” He had to discipline them, teach them, deal with their absences and conclude some weren’t teachable. He resigned the position after the term was over. He later entered a school for more training. There he excelled in “solid geometry, Virgil, Greek, and took Physiology.” Between terms, he assisted his father in the building of their home, wherein they contracted “all the masonry work for $85.00 and the carpentry work for $125.00.”
He regularly attended Sabbath School on Sundays, and from time to time went on a sleighing party, about which he wrote, “I enjoyed myself hugely.”
Our literary history gives us much in the way of diaries. The 1920, the publication of James Boswell’s diaries about life in the 1760s, was a major literary event. Samuel Pepys diaries from 1660 until 1669 were published in the 19th century, also a literary event.
Anne Frank's Diary makes us cry because we know the horrifying truth about what happened to an innocent girl. Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek is a diary of sorts detailing the seasonal changes of flora and faun near her home, among other reflections. Thoreau’s diary still influences modern-day environmentalists. Recently a Wall Street Journal article discussed John Quincy Adam’s Diaries.
Diaries are handwritten, kept daily or at frequent intervals, and sometimes are excruciatingly personal confessions. Sometimes they are boring beyond belief. No matter the weather, thoughts, feelings, dreams, frustrations, reflections, or opinions a person expresses in his diary about family, politics, religion, education, or a secret, that person is saying in essence, “I was here. I mattered.”