Cherished Diaries

In the wake of the recent weather-related disasters, I imagine that I am not the only one who has asked themselves the question: “what would I grab from my house if I had a limited time to get out?” Suddenly, all the stuff that seemed so danged important is no longer even considered. First, of course, ensure the safety of loved ones and, perhaps second, gather important papers and files. But then what? What are the items that are irreplaceable; the objects that have little dollar value, but are personally cherished and woven deeply into the tapestries of our lives?

Stacked within easy reach by the side of my bed are several five-year diaries that I would grab without hesitation. One is a daily account of my father’s life from 1941 through 1945. Two others – penned mostly by my mother – date from 1946 through 1950, and from 1951 through 1955. Another is mostly blank, but has some entries my mother made in 1958 (I think after that, raising three young children made keeping a daily dairy too challenging).

The oldest diary offers a glimpse into my father’s life as a single young man: his proud purchase of a new Plymouth “special, deluxe coupe” complete with “air horns and power shift” (all for $812); his ambivalent feelings about the upcoming war and his probable involvement; receiving his draft notice; news of the bombing of Pearl Harbor; and then his eventual enlistment into the army. My favorite entries are the ones he wrote about meeting “a swell gal” at an All Women’s Voluntary Services dance (who, of course, turned out to be my mother), proposing to her only three months later (“Everything swell until I realized what I was saying” and “State of shock through day”), then – just two weeks after that – hopping a bus to Las Vegas to get married on Valentine’s Day.

My mother took over most of the diary duties during the next five years as she chronicled their post-war life: going back to college, looking for work, spending time with friends and family, and traveling around the country. Finally, they landed in Southern California, where my father found full-time employment with the school system (where he worked until he retired), and my mother was hired as a writer and editor with a local defense company. Judging from the number of entries that itemize the cost of food and other purchases, it was obvious that the early years were a bit of a struggle financially as they built their life together.

During the next five years, my parents started their family. My brothers were born during this time and many of the entries are about raising two little boys. I didn’t come along until the last diary and play a rather minor role since I was quite young.

I pick up these diaries from time-to-time and choose a random spot to start reading. From the yellowed pages, I can hear my parents’ voices, read about their adventures, and get a sense of their devotion to each other and their family. Their writings help me understand a bit more about who they were and – by extension – how my brothers and I came to be the people we are.

My big regret is that I didn’t read these diaries while my parents were still alive and could have answered the many questions I have. Unfortunately, that opportunity is gone, but I’m grateful to have these cherished diaries that chronicle their journey together and help to reveal the loving, funny, and complicated people my parents were.


Thank you to the Cherished Blogfest team for once again hosting this delightful opportunity to share what we cherish with others. Link on over to the CBF site and check out the many inspiring stories you will find there. And, there is still time to create your own – the Blogfest has been extended through Sunday, October 22. Please join in!

Author: Janis @

My blog is about travel, relationships, photography, and whatever else pops into my head (even, sometimes, issues surrounding retirement and aging).

130 thoughts on “Cherished Diaries”

  1. What an amazing gift you have! Even though you have so many questions, those diaries provide you with an incredible amount of information. I am so glad you have them. Have you shared them with your brothers?

  2. What an amazing treasure these diaries are, Janis. You are so fortunate to have them. I would love to have diaries from my parents/grandparents/loved ones! #cbf2017

  3. You are wise to keep your family diaries so close at hand. In the event of an emergency, you will not have to think about taking them with you. I really feel bad for those who have lost similar precious family histories and old photographs in the recent natural disasters. Like you say, they may not be worth anything monetarily, but their value is clearly priceless.

    1. When I started thinking about all the precious items I’d want to take with me in an emergency, I realized that my bedside would get pretty cluttered. I feel very sorry for those people who are impacted by the earthquakes… they have no warning at all.

    2. I so hope that in this time of clouds and back up technology that many of the precious photographs that people might’ve lost in the past might be salvaged at least in a digital form. I’ve been doing lots of scanning of precious old and new photos and letters and saving them to external hard drives. I know it’s not nearly the same but in case of tragedy for me it would be a great comfort to preserve such items. Also I’m sharing photos and stories in on our massive family tree so our extended family will have access to who all the people in those old pictures are. They won’t have to guess and research as I have for identification.

      1. I agree… digitizing memories has its good and not-so-good sides. It is definitely not the same as the real thing, but much more accessible and, hopefully, recoverable in the case of a tragedy. The key is storing everything on external hard drives as you are doing. I hope your family appreciates all the work you are doing… I’m sure it’s a labor of love, but maybe daunting at times.

        1. It is indeed daunting and time consuming and a bit scary when I wonder if the format it’s in can even be opened years down the road. I’ve run into that with memory sticks and such already. And cds also. I’m keeping all my video and audio tapes just in case their digital copy can’t be opened. Oh and the old cameras that took the videos. I can play them through the original device. Wow. Life sure gets complicated with all these things meant to uncomplicate life.

  4. Those diaries are better than gold. Such a personal glimpse into who your parents were, before you arrived on the scene. I’d grab them, too. Maybe even before your Important Papers!

  5. Those sound very valuable. I hope that you can save them from any disaster. I’m not sure what I would take. I would probably be chasing cats around to save anything else.

  6. These are indeed items to cherish, Janis! It must be wonderful to pick them up and read them, hearing your young parents voices at a distant moment in time. How I wish my parents had kept some record of their lives and thoughts. I did stumble across a couple of really cheesy love poems my dad wrote to my mom. They are delightful to read, but definitely cheesy.

    1. My mother has kept records of things of importance and their dates for many years. It’s filled with everyone’s medical events, accidents, awards, jobs gained and lost, when girls became women, ha and all kinds of good memories. Also she kept journals throughout her caregiving of her mother with Alzheimer’s and my father with strokes. They are honest and brave and I’ve shared them with other caregivers who need to know their emotions and feelings are common and feeling guilty is also common. I’d definitely save those items. I would have saved old check registers my dad saved but someone did t know that and shredded them. They are full of history so ha g on to those of you have access. Piano lessons for 2.00 and such as that. Fun facts.

  7. An interesting moment. In our move/downsizing, I found my personal journals in lots of nooks and crannies. I have been keeping journals on/off since I was young and became a daily journal writer about 2 years ago. Yes, all handwritten – nothing computerized. As I put them all into one cabinet in my attic office, I wondered if I should even keep them, or toss them out. Who would ever read them (no kids here)… and would I even want them to be read? I still don’t know if they will survive the post-move purge (more decluttering will be needed – we are bursting at the seams in this new space). But you’ve given me a different point of view on reading diaries.

    1. I hope you keep those diaries. Someone including yourself will likely enjoy reading them one day. I have 100 year old letters of my husbands aunts and uncles and grandfather. I never met them but the historical information on what was important to them in their day and time is quite fabulous. I’m sure they thought it was not so exciting to read about weather and farming and life in the Midwest but for me being from NC all my life it was fascinating.

  8. Keeping diaries seems to be a family tradition. When my father-in-law passed away, my husband brought his diaries home from Germany. My husband keeps a diary (also in German) and I keep a journal as well. I hope I never find myself in a situation where I have to grab and go, it would be tough.

    1. I wish I had the discipline to keep a daily journal (outside of when we travel). The nice thing about the 5-year diaries my parents kept, there is only 4-5 lines for each day so there wasn’t a need to fill in the blank space with “stuff” (although they did write done the final scores of a few baseball and football games they watched).

    2. I love that all of you write. How special. I have kept letters from friends and family and recently found them and put them in chronological order and stacks of each person who sent them. Reading them brought back so many memories and explained lots of things that I had forgotten. When I let my friends and family know I had these letters they were beside themselves with joy. I have since shared them with their original WritersW if they were still living are with their families if not. What joy all those letters have brought.

      1. How nice of you to share those letters. I have the letters I wrote my parents from college (my mother kept them). They are fun to read but, I must admit, a little embarrassing (I thought I was pretty darn smart and sophisticated).

        1. Ha. I never thought I was smart and sophisticated. I might however have thought I knew it all pertaining to my parents. Amazing how they got so smart as I aged.

  9. Those diaries are such a wonderful thing to have. I think it’s amazing to be able to read about your dad’s life when he was single. I can see why you would grab those on your way out. Thanks for joining us (and for inspiring another writer to join).

    1. It’s funny, my dad was the last (proud) holdout of four bachelor friends… then he met my mom. It’s hard to believe that they stayed married almost 60 years given that they only knew each other a few months before getting hitched. Different times for sure.

  10. These diaries really are cherished and irreplaceable items…so strange, I woke up this morning thinking about this very subject of being able to gather up certain belongings if we had to evacuate. I have some old diaries I wrote but wouldn’t cry if they went away. I’m more worried about the hard copy photos I don’t have time to scan!

  11. That’s marvelous that you have those diaries. As soon as we buried my mother, all of us went outside to burn her stack of 5-year diaries. She had extracted a promise from each of us that we would burn them without reading them. We were grudgingly honorable.

    1. Oh my… I admit that I was a little worried about what I might find inside my parents’ diaries (I mean, who wants to know the complete truth about their parents?). Fortunately, it was pretty tame. A few fights were mentioned (“we aren’t talking”) as well as a lot of loving declarations. There were quite a few blank pages though so who knows? 🙂

    2. Oh that must have been so hard. My preacher says he told his family, “if I should die before I wake, throw all my journals in the lake.
      I’m not sure I could be as honorable as you. To follow those wishes I’d have to think of it as now mysterious. And special.

  12. Yes, the weather-related disasters have made many of of think of what we would grab. Hurricanes give us plenty of time but what about the fires in California? Husband has been scanning many photos and documents so that we could at least grab laptops. How special that you have diaries of your parents. A thoughtful and timely post!

    1. The recent disasters have really inspired my husband and me to get serious about our contingency plans. Unfortunately, where we are, we are most in danger of an earthquake which would give us no time to grab anything.

    2. I agree on the importance of this post. I too have been scanning many things. Photos and letters and documents. Then I back them up into an external hard drive that I will eventually store at my husband’s office one town over. Oh and also there’s the cloud but I don’t have as much faith in that as many people. I see technology come and go to quickly to assume that will be around forever or until one forgets to make a storage payment.

  13. Beautiful story. I have a few letters but no diaries. My grandmother told me some stories of her youth and I wish so much that I had recorded them. You have your priorities right!

      1. I guess they didn’t want you and your brothers to read them until after they were gone.
        It would have been wonderful if they could have shared their stories with you while you could talk with them about it.

  14. How wonderful. I wish I had more things like that from my grandparents. I am trying to get my mom to write things down now so that we can pass it on to the kids.

    1. My mom wrote some things down in years past but she’s gotten to the point where I’m much more likely to get good information by just recording her on my cell phone and then transcribing into a book I have called “A grandmother remembers.”

  15. Thanks for this blog post. I recently came across a box of letters which were written during the Vietnam Nam war from my Dad to my Mom while we lived in San Diego for 2 years waiting his return. I can’t wait to get started.

  16. What wonderful treasures to have. I inherited all of my grandmother’s diaries, she kept one from the time she was 15 until she died at the age of 87. She loved to settle many an argument when it came to a day or a date that something happened! She would refer back to her diaries to prove she was right & she usually was!

    1. What an amazing set of diaries chronicling a long stretch of history. So funny that she was able to back up her recollections with what she had written and – even better – win arguments :). Your diaries would make a great cherished item post for next year’s Blogfest.

  17. Janis, I have about twenty-five years worth of my life written in diaries. I only stopped the practice around eight years ago when I took up other means of chronicling daily life (shutterfly books mostly, and now our Blog). I have ambivalent feelings about sharing them with my daughter now, (I have shared excerpts) but hope that she will value them as much as you do your parent’s diaries when they are passed on. Lovely post.

    1. I’m amazed at how many people have said that they too keep (or kept) written diaries. It’s good to know that digital journals/blogs/etc. haven’t made the old fashioned kind obsolete (at least yet). I’m sure your daughter will cherish your diaries as much as I do the diaries of my parents.

    2. I have oodles of diaries too but I wisely wrote lots of it in coded language. And I never wrote things that I could get in trouble for. As an adult I worried about people reading letters to and from my husband in our long distance relationship. Pretty mushy stuff for our kids to read but oh well. We will be gone on to glory anyway.

  18. What a gift you have been given. I lost my mom at age 14 and would love to have had her words to comfort me throughout my life.

  19. Those really are wonderful keepsakes. I really wouldn’t beat yourself up too much about not reading them till later, and not being able to ask your parents any questions. You weren’t in the right place in life to have the patience to sit and digest what they wrote. I think on balance it’s better that you took the time to read it all when you were ready. Great post, Janice. – Marty

    1. There weren’t any “bombshells” in the diaries but they do shed a light on who they were before they had kids… I would have liked to know more about that. We tend to have a rather two dimensional image of our parents, and often only as they relate(d) to us as their children. I also realized as I read the entries, certain details and timelines (such as why and when my mother was in California when she met my dad) were different from what I thought I knew.

  20. You are so lucky to have those diaries! I would give anything to have something like that from my grandparents, and even my parents. Later in his life, my dad did start writing in his daily journals, but all he did was record what happened in a factual way (ate breakfast, went to the grocery store, took a nap, played cards, went to bed.) He didn’t record what he actually felt or go into detail about events. I really wish he did!

    1. Many of the entries in my parents’ diaries were pretty factual too, but even those were interesting (especially when they listed the cost of items they bought). My mom had a great sense of humor and it showed many times in the way she described simple events.

  21. What a wonderful treasure! You would indeed want to preserve those.

    Last year, my elderly aunt was faced with deciding what to pack in the event of an evacuation due to wildfire. All she packed were a few clothes, her banking and insurance documents, and a framed photo of herself and her late husband. Thankfully, the fire turned and she wasn’t forced to leave home, but her attitude was “It’s just stuff. At my age, what do I really need?”

    1. I think that the older we get, the more “stuff” becomes unimportant. I wish I had realized this sooner (I would have less to get rid of now 🙂 ) but, still, I’m enjoying the freeing feeling that decluttering has given me. The diaries, I’ll keep though.

  22. As I read your post, Janis, I was contrasting your find to a novel I read once. I can’t remember the name of it, but it was about a woman who inherited her mother’s diaries after the mom’s death. There were shelves full of the diaries, all the same kind of hardcover notebook, all lined up and dated. When the daughter opened the first diary, it was empty. The same was true of the second, the third, every single diary was absolutely empty. The daughter then had to figure out what that possibly meant about her mother’s life, and to try to reconstruct that life from other sources.
    You are so fortunate to have these memories. What a great way to get a sense of your parents lives independent of your perspective as their child.

    1. I am not familiar with the novel you described but I recently read Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng which has a scene where the mother discovers her dead daughter’s blank diaries. I am very grateful that my parents left us these treasures.

  23. Many of us in the US have recently realized that “natural” disasters can knock at our door. As a long time California resident I was used to pack earthquake and later fire emergency kits. Recently I also added the most precious “things” I’d like to preserve. They are diaries too 🙂

    1. It seems that no matter where we live, we are susceptible to some disaster – some just give as more prior warnings than others. Although our biggest threat here is an earthquake – which could happen at any time – there are still things we can do to prepare… something I need to do a better job of.

  24. Janis, your priorities are right. Your post reminds me of that movie “Leap Year” with Amy Adams – she realized her love was misplaced, as the one she should love knew precisely what he would retrieve in a fire – his mother’s ring. Like you, it is the connection to the past.

    My wife’s childhood home burned down and she misses all of the pictures and links to the past. Keith

      1. Janis, my wife (before we dated) had taken her mother to see her sister. Only he father and aunt were at the house, so they had to return from their trip with the knowledge most everything was gone. If you have a metal box that is heat resistant, you may want to put them in there. Keith

  25. Those diaries are a wonderful way in which to cherish your mom, dad and brothers, during a time that must seem a little foreign so many years later. To be able to look into your parents’ lives during a World War and into the 1950’s is amazing. I have a photo of my dad in his WWII uniform, but no stories to go with it other than what dad told us of his experiences. I should have written so much down as I was growing up, but you know what they say about hindsight… 😉

    Thanks for participating in #CBF17 and sharing diaries I hope you shall always cherish.

    1. When we are young it seems like we’ll always have enough time to capture those memories. Now that it’s too late, I feel so lucky to at least have the connections to the past that I do. I really enjoyed participating again this year… I’ve already started to think about what might be my subject next year.

  26. well I am a big fab of journaling – for therapy or for personal fun – or for a little keepsake to pass on – which you showed here. And this post is a wonderful example as to how a journal can be such a treasured keepsake – and even tho you are not able to ask the authors for clarification or for expounding – at least you have these rich little gems.
    what a nice item to keep bedside….

    1. Maybe since we don’t have kids, I never thought too much about journaling for keepsake reasons, but I do love to re-read the various journals I’ve kept while traveling. I often realize how much I have forgotten about a trip. They are also helpful when a friend is traveling to the same area (or we go again)… I always keep notes about where we’ve eaten or anything special we’ve done as a reminder.

      1. The travel journal is a great idea – and I have around 100 journals from over the years – mostly just with musings and thoughts for the day (like with coffee in morning) and sometimes I go a month without journaling the. Other times fill a notebook in a week – and it has been a gift to me for personal enrichment – not sure it is keepsake material tho – lol
        And one day my Journal was left out and someone asked aren’t you worried someone will read it?
        I replied – I feel sorry for anyone trying to get through those pages – hee

  27. How fabulous to have these diaries to read reread and reflect upon. It begs the question as to what longevity our digital diaries will have and whether our children or grandchildren will one day pore over our blogs, as you do with your parents handwritten dairies? Or will the words and thoughts and photos have all vanished on a cloud somewhere?

    The issue of “what would one take?” is of course incredibly poignant if you applied that thought to the reality of millions of global migrants, be they from Syria, Afghanistan, Mali, Ivory Coast, Bangladesh, Myanmar and the list goes on… Somehow the stories of Northern California evacuations speak to “people like us” and we are reading stories of survival and loss of life and loss of property, memories etc. And all these are the realities that underline the lives of so many refugees. Whether refugees from climate events or from wars it is important to contextualize that the loss of grounding that evacuees may find in Northern California is but an inkling of the dislocation that has already affected some sixty million refugees currently around the world and sadly hundreds of millions more to come as climate change redistributes the cards of who can live where.


    1. Oh my, you are so right! The people you write about are often only able to take what they can fit in a pack (if they are lucky enough to even have that). To lose not only your “stuff” (as precious as that might be) but also your homeland is a fate very few of us will ever experience. The recent hurricanes, fires, and earthquakes grabbed the headlines but the refugee crisis is massive, ongoing, and getting worse. Thanks for the reminder.

  28. How precious are those diaries, Janis! When I first read your title, I thought your cherished object was your own diaries (which was my entry of last year’s Cherished Blog Fest), but these notebooks have much more emotional and historical value.

    I have had many dreams where I needed to pack and get out in a rush. That, going on impromptu plane rides, and practice with real emergency thoughts when living on a boat and preparing “grab bags” in case of a sinking ship, make me confident I can pack my essentials within five minutes. Of course, we don’t have too many things to pick from,which makes it easy. 🙂

    1. I have never had the discipline to keep a diary for myself… I’d start, then soon give it up. Your experience living on a boat certainly would make having an emergency situation much more real. Good for you for keeping up the practice now that you are on firmer ground (expect you know we have earthquakes now and then in SoCal, right? 🙂 ).

  29. I have a box of my mother-in-law’s diaries. She wrote a little something every day – from high school on. She passed away at the age of 100! She lived by herself on her 100 acre ranch until she was 99. I believe her love of reading and writing is what cemented her mental agility! That, and the fact she never had an unkind thought! In any case, these precious diaries fill my heart. Imagine reading the entry from the day my soon to be 60 year old husband was born! Priceless!

    1. You (and your husband) are so lucky to have those diaries! Your mother-in-law sounds like an amazing women and having a window into her life – and the history surrounding it – is a treasure. I don’t remember if you have kids, but I hope these can be passed down to generations to come.

  30. I went on a few extended trips with my children when they were young. We kept a daily travel journal, and took turns writing the entries. When I recently was going through boxes trying to get rid of things prior to our move, I came across these travel diaries, and they were hilarious! Needless to say, I kept them.


    1. I love that you had your children contribute to the journals. What’s important to adults can be completely different from what’s important to kids. I’m so glad to know that the journals survived your move!

  31. Oh I envy you those diaries, but I share your sadness at not being able to ask questions of your parents now you’ve been able to read them. I lost my Dad last year and although my daughter & I tried to gather his stories whilst he was still hale & hearty, dementia caught him. I’m imagining your parents smiling to each other at how those everyday stories providing a window into their lives have given you such pleasure.

  32. Sadly, my parents never wrote a diary. It would be so exciting to pick up and read a page that would take us back in time and provide details of how life was back then. I am glad that you shared this with us and for participating in the Cherished Blogfest 2017.

    1. I’m sure my folks had no idea how important these diaries would be to their children. So many of the entries were “insignificant” writings about daily life but now mean so much. I hope my Blogfest post encourages others to start keeping a diary or journal that their children will cherish one day.

  33. I have thought the same thing: what would I grab. I also have a diaries from my mom and letters from my dad, along with lots of pictures. And feel the way you do about wishing I had asked them more questions when they were alive. thanks for this and will check out Cherished Blogfest even though it’s over now.

    1. Thank you for your comment. Although we hope that we will never be put in that situation, I think it’s good to put a little thought into what we should grab. Better to think about it when we aren’t panicking. The Cherished Blogfest is annual so keep a look out for it next year… I hope you join in!

  34. How lucky are you to have such treasures. I am sorry that you didn’t get to discuss the stories with your parents when they were alive but glad you have the stories to add to your memories of them.

    1. I feel very lucky to have these diaries and will cherish them forever. Even though I didn’t get to discuss many of the details with my parents, I am comforted knowing they had a full and happy life (even before me… can you imagine??).

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