Magazine article U.S. Catholic

My Dear Diarist: Many Secrets Are Revealed in a Diary, Only Some of Which Are Written Down

Magazine article U.S. Catholic

My Dear Diarist: Many Secrets Are Revealed in a Diary, Only Some of Which Are Written Down

Article excerpt

People get lost in big families. Their histories get lost, too--report cards and prizes, artwork from elementary school, snapshots never taken because there was no camera or no time to record the pictorial history of the many in the press of daily chores. This is not all bad. There is a certain privacy in numbers, the blurred focus that can relieve the intensity of parental concern.

My brother's diary from 1932 almost got lost. Its dimensions being 4 by 2.5 inches, the miracle is that it was recently found at all. Now that he's gone, his secret life can be told. But there was a secret about Ed that was kept even from him at the time.

Ed was born in June 1912. He would have been a teenager in the era of Studs Lonigan, author James T. Farrell's tragic fictional character. We even lived near the same neighbor hood in Chicago as the Lonigans, sharing many of the same kinds of family connections and influences. Yet there the resemblances cease, for there was something different about Ed. He was perhaps even more like Farrell himself, for how many young men in 1932 would have kept a tiny diary?

Ed, at 20, was hopeful of finding someone to lend him the money for college. The Great Depression made it impossible for most families to support such an ambition. "Never give up," he tells himself on many pages, as he thought up new ways to approach the problem. He was working at whatever jobs he could find. His diary shorthand was "Work. Oddie. Dance. Church." Freud's recipe for healthy development was "work and love." Ed would have added "fun" and "spirituality," according to his notes.

"Oddie," the nickname of a girl he pursued, appeared about every third page. He was up, he was down, elated, despairing, pensive, hopeful. But his competition couldn't have been more formidable. He would realize this later, in 1933, when Oddie entered the convent. Did she account for the many weekdays he entered "church" or "Mass" or "Confession" in his diary? Was Ed merely trying to make a good impression on Oddie? Or praying for her favor? Or just practicing his faith beyond the Sunday obligation?

When Ed was in his teens he broke his shoulder diving from a tool shed into a promising but shockingly shallow snow bank. His neck cast kept him immobilized for months. I remember him sitting on the front porch that summer, reading and reading. So at the end of his diary it was not surprising to find two interesting lists, one of them the names and phone numbers of 12 girls he knew and might want to date. First on that list was, of course, Oddie. The other, much longer list, comprised the books he was reading or had read. No college literature major could have improved on it for classics. No junk lit to be found. (Me, even then I was reading Dime Detective, our father's favorite pulp magazine. …

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