When I was in 5th grade, we moved to a town. We kids hated living in towns—we preferred the countryside & wildwoods. While Dad mapped the Smoky Mountains, Dad, his survey party, wives & kids lived in park rangers’ stations. We played in clear creeks, undamming them so water could flow freely. We’d swim in the fresh water pools after our hard work. Bob dared me to swing on a thick vine across the “crick” on day. I did it! Yee-Ha!
Now we were in Boring Christiansburg, Virginia. Yuck! Kathi & Bob made friends immediately. Bob & his buddies played cops & robbers in back yards. Kathi & her friends played pick-up-sticks & other games that made no sense to me.
So Dad gave me a tiny brown diary. “You may never become a famous writer like Poe but some people just need to write.”
Dad had diaries from when he was young. Bob & I knew where he hid them, in a drawer under his neatly ironed (by me) handkerchiefs, next to his Colt .45. Whenever Mom & Dad went out to dinner & dancing, we’d rush to that drawer & read all about our father’s life in the 1920s, 30s & during World War II.
Our father wrote about cleaning, working in a steel mill (earning $20/day in the 30s!), peeling pears & cracking pecans for his mother, getting ready for college. His major lament was being far too skinny to get into the Air Corps during WWII (he ate 6 bananas a day for 4 weeks & still didn’t pass muster—so the Navy took him.) He also wrote about current events, including atomic power, the threat of more war (after WWII) & the United Nations. His diaries were far more interesting than mine!
“Dad had Girlfriends before Mom!” Bob shouted one night. The baby-sitter was ignoring us, reading a book. Which was fine by us.
“So, lots of guys date.”
“But they’re in love! They kiss all the time. Bleagh.” Bob made a face.
Typical boy. I was far more mature at nine years old. Grown-ups do way more than kiss. I knew this from reading our mother’s Merck Manual & studying transparent human body diagrams in the Encyclopedia. Mom had a nursing degree. She used medical terms for body parts. Penis, vagina–I hated those words. Human bodies looked weird, especially when you peeled back the transparencies to see into their guts! And that fetus in the uterus! I would NEVER get pregnant!
I began keeping a diary but most of my entries were dumb. Like “boring day” & I’d draw a long line through 5 or 6 days, indicating that entire time was no fun. Or I’d write “wish we could move back to Cosby! Tennessee is the BEST!”
Later, in high school, I started a scrapbook. I cut pictures out of Teen & Mad magazine then taped them into the pages of a spiral notebook. I wrote down my favorite songs.
I kept it all my life. One night in Boulder, Colorado when I was in my 30s, I was sleeping over at a girlfriend’s house. Alyson was a gifted actress. She did a great impression of Marilyn Monroe, performing at parties & corporate events. She was Hungarian & gorgeous. Our men were out working late—my husband Peter driving cab & then performing at Denver’s Comedy Club. We were drinking tequila & dancing to old soul songs on her hifi.
“Look what I brought!” I produced my 60s Scrapbook.
Alyson grabbed it, rapidly flipped through the pages.
Diva that she was, she fell onto the carpet, laughing so hard she wheezed.
“Dixie! Oh my GOD! I had a scrapbook (haha) exactly like this (haha!).”
Her laughter was infectious. We both cracked up as we paged through my crucial record of that decade.
In my high school diary, I wrote about music, difficult AP classes & boys, boys, boys. There were exactly three references to Vietnam in that little book. It felt as if I were making the war keep going if I wrote about it, so I refused to “put my mouth on it” as Creole people said when Dad was mapping Southern Swamps. If you spoke out loud about something (or wrote it down, I reasoned), it would come true & “stick on you.” I picked up a ton of superstitions in the Old South.