The Black Diary-a 60s childhood revisited

I found my diary from when I was twelve. It was written in a black day planner from an insurance company. Apparently I played outside a lot with my dog, cuddled my cat, and taught my parakeet to say “Here, Kitty Kitty.” I was the oldest of four kids–three girls and then a boy. I had to babysit and do all sorts of errands for my Mom, and I would buy plastic toys with the money I earned. My parents even had me babysit when they went to church. In one entry, my sister Lynn filled an empty aspirin bottle with water and we gave it to little brother Tom and talked him into drinking it. Then we told him it was poison and I got in trouble.

One thing I notice in my diary is that I was a little scientist even back then. I looked at things under my microscope and drew them. I studied the moon with my telescope, and I read comic books. Even now I think that my novels have a comic book feel to them. I was always making models. I made a mastodon model and the cat, Inky, could not stop batting at it and breaking it. I didn’t get too mad at her but went on to build a rudimentary computer and also a “visible pigeon.” What if society hadn’t let me be a scientist! My heart would have been broken.

But here is another little brother story that shows early on how my mind was working and thinking about chemicals and what they might do to people. He had/has three older sisters who would gang up on him. One time we put face cream on him. We–this has me written all over it–told him that it turned him into a girl. Then someone-probably not me–put a slip on him. He cried so I came up with a cream to turn him back into a boy. We got in trouble anyway. But later he got his revenge. Lynn had a favorite doll and Tom put a desk lamp on its head and melted it. This makes me think that it was Lynn who put the slip on him.

My grandparents had a horse farm and we visited every summer. Those were glorious times riding Jodi the quarter horse mare and playing in the barn unsupervised. There was a hired stable boy named Carl. One day we decided to play a prank on Carl and my cousin. We wrote a note to Carl saying that Bob had to help him clean the sables. It backfired because the cousin loved cleaning the stables and was really good at it. However, we did spend time spying on Carl and found his stash of Playboy magazines in the hayloft, which we read and discussed with zeal. No further mention of Carl after that but in retrospect, a few years later my sisters later wore jeans so tight that they pulled up the zippers with pliers. Here we are on the swing at the farm.farm swing

granny and hinga kids
The next year at the farm, granny, Penny, and the kids.

We had just moved to Pella, Iowa from Washington D.C. Pella had an abundance of crepe paper and the neighborhood kids decorated wagons with it and had parades–until the parents became annoyed and ordered us to stop. (I think it was the next summer where this turned into a penny carnival.)

I began to develop modestly and my mom bought me two bras. One was decorated with a strawberry and the other a butterfly. My sisters crept into my room when I was sleeping and tried to strip off my clothes to get a look at what was happening. They got in trouble.

When 7th grade started I walked home with a new friend. One day after we’d parted ways, someone, a kid, known only as John in my history, followed me and tried to touch me. According to the diary, I beat him up for trying. Undeterred, he tried it again the very next day and once again I “beat him up.” I have no memory on who this John was or what this touching was. He garnered no further mention. 7th grade was pretty wonderful. During health class the teacher tried to talk about “emotions” we would later have. There was absolutely no discussion of anything physical back in the day. Another girl and I kissed each other and said dirty things to get a laugh to break the confusion and tension we were all experiencing at this heavy moment. Somehow I still got an A in that class. But the very best and most telling of all was that I wrote a short story and read it in front of English class. Everyone laughed. Even Mrs. Wagamon. Following this, I was forever linked to and chasing that low art of comedy. Reading this diary reveals my deadpan humor. My fates were sealing at this tender age of twelve. Thank the stars it was all good for a laugh.

I never liked to be anything sweet for Halloween. My go-to consume was a ghost. But I was a big 7th grader now so I changed my style and dressed up as a demonstrator in a mini-skirt and white Go-go boots with black soles. I carried a sign that said “Hurray for the Great Pumpkin.” I wanted to change the world for the better but I wanted to be sexy and laugh too. Some people in Pella found Halloween demonic and scary.  They would turn off their lights and refuse to go to the door or open it and shout “I don’t believe in Halloween.”  This was a huge change from Washington DC (Rockville) where it was a big secular event and parents dressed up to give out candy. (I still live in Pella but there are things I don’t “get” about it as if I’ll never be truly from here. Halloween is not celebrated in the schools. There is a “fall festival” that involves no dressing up instead.)

That week-end, the neighborhood kids all decide that we weren’t done with Halloween yet. We made costumes by covering our faces with kerchiefs and pulling hooded sweatshirts over our eyes. We went door to door. My Mom gave us some peanuts but not all neighbors were so inclined. One Pella neighbor –weary of giving handouts–even told us to “Drop Dead.”

The next week I wore my Go-Go boots to school and got my first love letter from a boy named Larry. It said “Dear Gril, I like you. I hope you like me.” We all know that I am not the best speller or proof-reader in the world but the “gril” part overshadowed his good looks and I decided that I wasn’t old enough for a boyfriend.

In the diary I mentioned that I wasn’t old enough to wear nylons but did anyway because “who wants to be a weird-o?” These were not panty hose. They required a girdle to hold them on. I found fishnet stockings more to my liking and fishnets and Go-go boots were super cool. It sure was cold walking to and from school in that mini skirt and fishnets. (The diary notes that the temperature varied between -23 F in the winter to 101 F in the summer that year.) We had a dress code that said girls had to wear skirts and skirts had to cover the knee. When out of sight of the school I rolled mine up. My mom saw me walking like this and I got in trouble because I looked “too sure of myself.” I’m still processing that one.  Today I do all I can to avoid nylons. And dress codes.

The black diary ends “I will never forget you for you were my first diary.” The black diary is a window to the twelve-year old mind and since the sequel to Mixed In contains a roaming band of twelve-year old girls, it’s a bonanza. There’s a poignancy to it as twelve year old me navigates that world between being a kid and trying on grownup clothes and fearing those grown up emotions. My heart goes out to twelve year old me and to twelve year olds everywhere. I wish them all the best of life and hope I’ve done all I can to make the path ahead easier.

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