Long before she passed, my mother gifted me a collection of 3x5 index cards, with at least one card for each day of the year. A prolific diarist, my mother had always filled her calendar books with notes about each day. These were not the sort of diary entries wrought with internal dialogue, emotional outpourings, or philosophical handwringing. Rather, they were simple one-line affairs, often remarking on the weather– were it particularly hot, cold, or stormy – but also including tidbits of events, births, deaths, or who she may have visited or called that day.
Eventually she transcribed these entries onto index cards, so as each day passed she would look at the card for the day, see the events that had happened on that same day years past, and make her new entry.
At some point she duplicated her cards for me, telling the story she had captured from my point of view; “dinner with Chris” in my mom’s version, became “dinner with mom.” I’ve had these cards for years and finally decided to make them a project of my own – to put them in some electronic format that I can read and follow along, and also update as my own days pass.
I too, have kept journals. Unlike my mother though, mine are full of haphazard exposition often written in deliberately obscure hand writing. An entry might include several pages of repetitive introspection followed by weeks, sometimes months, of blank pages. Yes I’ve filled volumes over the years, but they paint a timeline that is admittedly rather hard to follow.
Here is the brilliance of what my mother had created – while my journals assemble a sort of linear timeline one might expect in telling one’s story, my mom created a sort of circular, or spiral timeline, in which the past is revisited in regular intervals. In these cards a sort of rhythm is revealed. The spikes of activity in holidays and birthdays are evident and it becomes clear how these are events we normally use to anchor our memories.
In addition, I’ve found that my mom’s simple capture of the day’s events in a single sentence, can also be powerful triggers. As I recently flipped through the cards and saw the words “Dad is ill” I knew that was the day my father could no longer get out of bed, his brain tumor finally causing his immobility. That event forever changes the entire dynamics of our family from that point forward. Three words, no pages and pages of tearful resentments necessary.
I understand this is a code decipherable in many cases only by me. My First concert is recorded on May 19, 1979 as “to LA with friends to see Camelion and whiskey a gogo to see rock group” –my friends would refer to as the day of Cultural Suicide. It included seeing the play “Pygmalion” at the Music Center, the Movie Jubilee at the Nuart, and The Screamers at the Whiskey.
Then There’s February 8, 1984, “opening of winter Olympics in Jugoslavia” – Sure a historic event easily Googled, but for me this marked the start of a three week period of decadence with my soon to be wife eating chocolate, and downing shots of slivovitz anytime a medal was won, or a jump was landed. These simple sentences are memory seeds waiting to sprout and grow into full blown remembrances.
As this project continues I’m slowly learning my mother’s simplified methods of distilling a day into a sentence. I know I’m consciously trying to capture the things that will become my future memories, but I also wonder about those events whose significance only reveal themselves in time. Points in time, points on a circle. I’m enjoying this journey through my forgotten anniversaries.