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Who Wants to Know?

Text by: Penny Orland, public speaker and blogger at SoHumorMe

For years, I avoided the journals my mom, written in old spiral bound ruled notepads, left behind. The stack was too high. Mom was simple. She never worked outside of the home. We rarely ate in restaurants. Her idea of fast food was leftovers warmed in a pot, or even better, fried. Her weekly meals were determined by Sunday's feast. If we ate fresh baked ham, Monday's menu was ham and navy beans, Tuesday, ham rolls… You get the picture. She wore the same dress style her whole life — straight skirt cinched at the waist by a drawstring. Her feet donned flat shoes only, and her hair was always styled compliments of Toni home permanents. She was shy. She never played with danger, acted disobediently, or said a mean word. She certainly didn't have a sordid past. She never moved from the small town where she was born.

Her life was her fabric. She sewed my wardrobe when I would rather have had a store bought dress. "My mother gave me a Singer Featherweight sewing machine when I was 12-years -old," Mom had said. "It was second-hand, but I loved it." She'd told me the story at least a hundred times. I was the oldest child. I knew her best and longest of all her children — her every habit. I knew the extended family members she spoke of often who gradually began to move or pass away, many before my younger siblings were born. What could she possibly say in all those smudged and tattered pages? I imagined daily travelogues to and from the market, church, and the like. I couldn't possibly learn anything new.

© Jessica Ceason Photography

Then one day, for some reason, I opened the smallest diary. A little, dark blue book. It was dated 1946. There were only a handful of entries. She was twenty-one years old, not yet a wife or mother. "I didn't do much in the morning, but in the afternoon I went down to our new store Benjamin Franklin. At the remn [she left room to complete this word, I suppose to find the correct spelling of "remnant," but never did] shop, I bought two pieces of material for blouses and one for a dress. In the evening I started a dress. I've had the material for some time. [A pinked swatch of the lightweight wool navy and white gingham print fabric was glued to the corner of the small yellowed page.] Barbara called up again, but Phil [Mom's brother] was gone… She said she just had to see him and she would do anything if he would like her."

Did I learn anything new? No (except that my uncle was a hottie). But in my mind's eye, I saw Mom wearing a perfectly tailored navy and white, gingham print dress with a smile on her face, teasing, "You've got an admirer!" as only an older sister can. In that short passage, Mom's zest for finding breath in even the small things, a sense of "fun" that sometimes get lost in the routines of everyday life, shone through.

© Jessica Ceason Photography

A little over a year ago, I began blogging. To my own surprise, I have "journaled" in it several times a week. I'd written a humorous memoir years before but couldn't interest anyone in my family to actually read it. I presume they felt about my book like I felt about my Mom's journal — overwhelmed. So instead I write in daily chunks. I have to admit, they still don't read the posts frequently, but… sometimes they surprise me. "I read your blog on my birthday," my youngest said. "I'd had a miserable day, and you reminded me I was special."

Journals can be used to share experiences with family while we live. I want my children to know I had a funny bone in my body so often hidden from them during life's little trials. I want them to know I could "chill" their favorite command to any drama.

Blogging, or my preferred method of journal keeping, has heightened my senses to life and those around me. It's given me the opportunity to share my life as I live it with those I know and love. Some things have been said more easily in a journal entry than in conversation. I don't have to work through the "Oh, Mom, not now" garbage. When they are ready to hear it, it will be there waiting.

© Jessica Ceason Photography

How you keep your journal is up to you. I began when my children were young by tossing handwritten scribbles about events or ideas into a manila folder. It didn't matter what it was written on — a napkin, a torn piece of paper, a sticky note. Eventually, I graduated to the computer and relied on those reminders to trigger my memory. Had I not jotted down a line or two, a name and a date, I would not have ever remembered some of those wonderful experiences. I would have forgotten that my youngest daughter named her imaginary friend "Messy Hair" had I not found that Post-It©. (I'm still wondering what the hen scratch "motorcycle cop in Cody, Wyoming" meant. Some things are better forgotten, I guess.)

When I thought about journal keeping as a young mother, I wasn't sure I wanted to share the emotions of the ride. I felt the struggles of a single parent would sound depressing, or at best boring. So I chose not to keep any records. How fun it would be to look back now on a day that read, "Mixed the powdered milk before getting four kids dressed and delivered to school on time." I could have read that and exclaimed, "Whew, I was good!"

I am guessing that many of us aren't sure we can handle people knowing how we feel, even after we are no longer around. I didn't want others to ever see me weak, depressed, or angry. I'm not so protective of those feelings as I age. I realize that these feelings are part of life. And sometimes sharing makes it easier for others to see their way through difficult times.

I hope you are inspired to record your own history, your children's lives, and the things that are happening around you. I believe each of us has an inner desire to have mattered. Journals can make that happen.

Tonight I pulled out the old Featherweight sewing machine and threaded it up. It still hums and sews the straightest seam ever.