My birthday happens to be in December (on the 9th), so my numerical age stays the same practically all through the calendar year. On my tenth birthday, in 1943, one of the presents I received was a “Five-year Diary,” with each small page representing the same calendar date on five succeeding years. So, each day had only four lines on which to record the events and thoughts of that day – and when you got to the end of the year, you had to go back and start all over again in the same little book.
I hadn’t asked for this gift, (and can’t even remember who gave it to me) but I did feel a certain obligation to make use of it. And so, on January 1, 1944, at age 10, I began a career as a diarist, which has actually lasted to the present day. That first volume, however, which was supposed to last me through 1948, became a literary fiasco. I tried to keep within the lines, but so often had more to say that I was compelled to resort to various stratagems, such as using the margins, and sticking in extra pages. It was all very frustrating – and by the time I reached the end of the second year, I had had enough of that miserably inadequate book, which had in any case become very grubby, after two years of daily handling by a none too delicate youngster.
So, for the third year, I “graduated” to a page-a-day “desk diary” – but then the problem became having too much space for some days, and too little for others. The eventual answer was to start using blank volumes, in which I could insert my own dates, and write as little or as much for each day as I chose. It was all hand-written – and this antiquated system continued well on into the computer age, although I came more and more to regret that these records were not “searchable,” so there was no easy way I could look up anything in my own carefully-recorded past. The only answer was to start typing the entries directly into a computer – which I have now been doing since 2014. But there was something solid and secure about having the whole diary together in a set, which finally totaled 48 bound volumes, now all residing in a large file-drawer.
But, except for a few special chapters of my life, I’ve never yet even begun any attempt to type the entire diary. The task is simply too daunting – and one thing that would make it challenging for any hired stenographer – or even for any computerized scanning and reading machine – is that, at a certain point – about the time I discovered the very-fine-point “Rapidograph”-type pens – I began writing my entries in an almost microscopic hand, which makes it hard even for me to read them today. So the pages would probably first have to be enlarged, then machine-read, and then carefully edited and proofread.
But of course, all this isn’t likely to be worth anyone’s trouble. I am no Samuel Pepys, and this record of my life, while detailed, will hardly be considered of historical value.
But I know you won’t let me go now without at least a sample of what I have spent so much of my life writing privately (even my wife wasn’t allowed to read the later parts – although actually, I don’t think she was even interested).
We might as well start at the beginning – so here is my very first four-line entry, from January 1, 1944, when I was living with my parents and sister in Washington, D.C. (It was written in ink – but ballpoints had yet to appear, and for some reason, I had been surprisingly slow in mastering the art of writing in ordinary pen-and-ink, so the original looks very untidy):
“Went to shul.
Went for a walk.
Found interesting things in Daddy’s atlas.”
Now I must explain that “shul” was our (Yiddish) word for synagogue. On weekdays I went there, to “Hebrew School,” after regular public school. This particular day was a Saturday, so I attended the regular morning Sabbath service, as I did every Saturday.
Strangely enough, I think I still remember that large atlas, and that the “interesting things” were not in the map section, but in the index, which contained towns with all sorts of strange names, and even our own – yes, there was actually a town of Brilliant in British Columbia!