Before there was Facebook, before there was Twitter, there was this:
June 23, 1923: Lola and children at home. Fern and I worked. Clear in a.m., partly cloudy in p.m. and cooler. (High) 76, (low) 60.
July 4, 1978: Lola and I at home. We did only the necessary household chores. Too hot to do much. Clear and hot. 97, 60.
These are entries from my grandfather’s diaries, which he kept diligently, every day from Jan. 1, 1919, to Nov. 13, 1980. The word “diaries” is perhaps misleading, implying introspection and self-analysis. My grandfather, Earl Kershner of Denver, was not one for self-analysis, as perhaps you might glean from an entry that mentions the birth of a grandson.
He notes that the child was given the middle name Earl but then makes no comment on this honor, except to say, “Clear except for some clouds early this a.m., 78, 53.”
Most of these journals have “Dailyaide: The Silent Secretary” embossed on the covers, a more apt title than “diary.” He used them as a kind of “silent secretary” over the years – one who wouldn’t blab, I guess – to keep track of the daily occurrences of his family’s life. You will find considerable information about the weather, which he tracked as diligently as the National Weather Bureau, and about his lawn-mowing schedule (quite regular). But, even in his journals, this Cripple Creek mining camp telegraph operator turned U.S. Reclamation Service engineer was not one for what we would call over-sharing.
I find that refreshing, to tell you the truth. Today, we all seem to suffer from a peculiar digitally induced solipsism, in which we believe that everything that happens to us, and every passing emotion we feel, must be shared with the world on Facebook and Twitter, no matter how banal.
Typical Facebook post: Drove to Cheney this morning!
Typical comment: Woo-hoo!!!
My grandfather’s early version of tweeting was certainly no less banal – I can’t count how many times his entire post-retirement day consisted of “sprinkled lawn, watched baseball game on television.”
But there was this crucial distinction: He issued his observations quietly, privately, and was certainly not soliciting comments. When he wrote, “Mother at home, Edith and I worked,” he was not seeking affirmation in the form of a “Woo-hoo!”
Still, these journals are sprinkled with wonderful, vivid passages that might be “woo-hoo” worthy. His early ones are the most expansive, if somewhat short of exuberant:
June 24, 1919: Bob (his 10-month-old) is feeling fine … When he walks, he goes first to the piano, then to the telephone, his two favorites. He can say mamma, daddy, hello daddy, etc.
And he certainly did use his journal as a way to chronicle the bigger events in the world. He writes solid, AP-worthy synopses of President Kennedy’s assassination and the attack on Pearl Harbor. And then, the day after Pearl Harbor, he spends some time on a smaller tragedy, the death of his daughter’s dog, Shep.
As I leaf through these 61 years of journals, I am struck not only by the contrast with today’s Twitter culture, but also by the similarities. He and all of today’s texters and posters and tweeters share a universal impulse: to take brief word snapshots of their lives so that the moments won’t fly past and be lost forever.
That, I think, is why my granddad sat down every night for more than 22,000 nights and captured the day for his “silent secretary.” The impulse was so strong that he kept at it until Nov. 13, 1980.
“Lola and I at home,” he writes, and, characteristically, doesn’t mention how he feels.
Then on Nov. 14, 1980, the entry reads, “Earl too sick to write, Lola taken over.”
And then, finally, on Dec. 7, 1980, “Earl passed away about 6:30 p.m. today. … Oh how I will miss him! Things will never be the same.”
Earl was gone, but Lola still had something left.
She had 61 years of him, neatly stacked on her bookshelf.