Remembering the Lock ‘n Key Diary
In 1970, I turned 9 years old and entered 4th grade. My November birthday brought a brown paper package from Chicago to Los Angeles from my Grandmother. I ripped it open.
A red diary with gold leafing! A golden metal lock clasped it shut, and a tiny matching key on a red string was Scotch taped to the cover.
I knew one thing about diaries. They held secrets. With a lock and key to protect them, there was no limit to the private thoughts a 9 year old could scribble onto its pages!
I tested the key. It worked! The stiff edges crackled as I thumbed them looking for November 7. I cloistered myself in the corner of my bedroom, door closed, and picked up my pen to write…nothing.
I had no secrets. It stunned me to discover that I had been on the planet nine whole years and I had not a single thought or private wish that needed safe-keeping. I closed the diary in defeat.
I stared blankly at a sky blue wall.
Then a thought dawned—maybe inspired by the color red, the gold leafing, or the desperate internal search.
Diaries are records of secret crushes!
I broke open the seal again, and enthusiastically began my first entry:
“I love Scott Halstead.”
Whether I did actually “love” Scott or not was entirely beside the point. I could now write about emotions that I didn’t want my brother to read. Victory!
The following pages mused whether or not to give Scott my baseball cards (I had two), how to show him I loved him (I never mustered that courage), and what he might say to me if we ever exchanged syllables.
The first month of entries is a torrid private fantasy of benign interactions between two kids—with a surprising number of misspellings for being an A student speller in school. My handwriting is slope-y and jumbled, and I believe I thought it was beautiful at the time.
I kept up the daily entries for a few impressive months and then the crush wore off with none to replace it, and my thoughts became mundane.
There’s quite a drought of entries after Christmas. Then, on February 9, 1971, an earthquake struck Northridge, CA, not 8 miles from my home. We felt the full force of that quake. Walls split in our neighbor’s house, dishes burst from cabinets and crashed to the ground, beds slid across floors, and our little Boston Terrier leapt over her gate to tear into our bedrooms.
My brother, 7 years old at the time, felt the rocking house under him as he woke up and we could hear him (standing) on his bed shouting “Ahoy Matey!” I made the uncertain, slingshot, stumbling journey from my room to my parents’ bed, while the house creaked and groaned and threw me against the walls.
I wrote about it the next day, in my diary.
Not too many words, but enough to see my perspective at nine, of this big event that I’ve never forgotten.
It’s funny how I thought my secret crush was the point of the diary back then, when today I see it as this “witness to history” moment, afforded me by the seduction of gold leafing, and a lock and key, and the wonderful way writing is and has always been there for me.
I smile when I see it now. My grandmother wrote poems in an era when women didn’t work or publish much, but she assumed I’d write. My mother became a successful author. I teach writing. My daughter writes poems and teaches writing. We all journal.
The beat goes on…
Just felt like thanking the genius who put gold edges and locks and keys on red diaries. I don’t know what kind of writer I might have become without mine.
Journaling Jumpstart guides students to explore various methods of journaling, all while challenging them to build a pattern of regular journal-keeping, no matter what the style.
“The best time to begin keeping a journal is whenever you decide to.” (Hannah Hinchman, A Life in Hand)
This class is perfect for middle school, junior high, high school, and beyond! It would make a great first independent online class for middle schoolers or a great family project (parents included!) to start the new year journaling together!
Header image by Hannah G