Last week a lady stopped me in the Post Office and said, “Buckley, you have an amazing memory. How can you remember all the details of the experiences you share in your columns?”
Me? A good memory? Hells bells, I can’t remember what I ate for breakfast by lunch. I forget the names of people 30 seconds after I am introduced. If I don’t write everything I need to remember down immediately it is usually gone by dinner.
And that is the secret to this “magnificent” memory of mine. I WROTE IT DOWN!
For my eighth-grade Christmas in 1958, I received a tiny red diary, complete with a lockable gold key which I wrote in until August of that year. Then the diary was lost. Two years later I found it.
I hadn’t given it a thought in the interim. I sat down and read it from cover to cover. It was a personal epiphany. I remembered things when I read about them in my little journal like they had happened yesterday; things I knew I would never would have remembered if I had not written them down.
So on January 1, 196l, I began keep a personal journal. That was not a cool thing for boys to do back in the olden days. I never told friends I kept a journal in the early going. I was afraid they would razz me about it because everybody knew that only love sick girls kept diaries in the early 1960’s.
My journal keeping has never been an every-day thing. Kids were not asked to write journals by schools and churches in those days. I have probably averaged three entries a week for what will be 50 years next January 1.
I don’t know how many entries I have made in half a century, but I do know how many pages I have written. Each page is numbered. The format is 81/2 x 11 inches. There are usually several entries on a single page. Sometimes there are several pages on a single memorable or meaningful event or lesson learned.
On May 30, 2010 my journals consisted of 9,682 pages in 39 volumes. I wrote less some years than others and combined two years into some years, thus cutting down on binding costs.
The more I wrote, the more intrinsically valuable the journals became. I became paranoid about losing them in a house fire. I started making copies and leaving them at my mother’s home. I now have an 800 pound, fireproof safe which is rated to withstand the worst of house fires. I sleep better knowing all that effort won’t go up in smoke even if the house burns down.
When I taught school, I told my students that if my house caught fire, each of my seven children would be required to carry an armload of journals to exited the burning building.
Students thought that was pretty funny, but I gently reminded them that journals were about the only things in my home I could not replace. And except for raising seven children, there was nothing in my home that remotely compared to the time and effort I put into those thousands of pages of family and personal history.
Our priorities change over a lifetime. I write more succinctly now than when I was young. I am more understanding with student and children’s early writing when I look back at my own. The kinds of things I write about have changed. The writing gets better with time. “Practice makes perfect,” they say. I am far from perfect, but you ought to read what I wrote 40 years ago compared to today. I could go on for several more columns sharing the blessings and all the reasons I am grateful I started this endeavor a half century ago, but I am fast exceeding my word limit.
I have long since reconciled myself to the fact that I am not going to amount to much in this life and that few, if any, will every read what I have written about my sojourn in mortality.
On the other hand, I have been powerfully inspired from reading journals written by my forebears and others. There aren’t any members of my families that were “famous” in the way the world looks at fame.
But their journals, many of which were written under trying circumstances, have had an enormous impact on me. Their strength and their examples have been a powerful anchor in my life. I will be forever grateful that they wrote about parts of their lives down so that I can be inspired by them long after they are gone.
In 2004, I went through one of the darkest periods of my life. During that time, my son, Jordan, visited for an extended time. I had not written anything for months and I had decided to give up journal writing. As far as I was concerned my life was a failure and I didn’t want to live very much at the time, much less write about it.
Each day during that visit, while I taught school in Blanding and unbeknownst to me, Jordan searched my journals. He had already read them all when he was in high school. At Christmas that year each of his siblings and his dad received a bound book about themselves. The text was direct quotes from my journals. Jordan started with each of their births and quoted what I had said about each of them. …about the funny, memorable, happy things that happened in their lives. They got to see their victories, their good times, their puppy loves, graduations, marriages and the onset of the next generation from their Father’s viewpoint.
That special book is the most precious Christmas gift I have ever received. Jordan’s brothers and sisters, most of whom are journal keepers themselves, were inspired to rededicate themselves to the commitment it takes to write life-long journals.
In March, I took a road trip to the Pacific Northwest with Jordan. On that trip he told me he felt like he got to know me more by reading my journals as a youth than anything else in our relationship.
Reading about my great grandfather, George A. Adams, one of the four founding fathers of Monticello, did the same for me. The journal he wrote after leaving a wife and seven children to serve two years in the Southern States Mission at the turn of the century, allowed me to know him as nothing else could have. What he sacrificed for his beliefs and his God has been a powerful influence on my life.
I still write about important things. I have probably written something nearly every day this year so far. We tend to write more when things are going good. And LIFE IS GOOD for this guy lately.
Nevertheless, there are still days when I wonder why I do it. But, old habits die hard. With good health and a patient God, perhaps I will add a few more volumes to the collection before I head up (I hope) to be judged from of the Big Journal in the sky.