I Found A Diary From 1949
I am a collector of antique books. Not the rare, ancient books that you might find tucked away in the archives of a library, though. I prefer thrift store books of questionable age and origins. The more mystery the better. You see, I don’t collect books for the stories written on the pages, but for the stories they hold within them. Every dog eared page, smudged fingerprint, and faded coffee stain has its own story to me.
Sometimes I’ll find a tattered romance novel so old and worn that I can barely make out the masculine hero on the cover. I love to flip through them and find the pages that have been worn the thinnest, searching for the previous owners favorite scene.
And sometimes I’ll find a worn children’s book with ripped pages, torn binding, and a smeared message written on the back of the front cover. All of these are treasures to me, because of the memories they hold within them. It makes me sad to think of a book that was once well used and loved sitting in a bin somewhere wasting away. So I take them home and put them in my small library, and give them the love that I feel all books deserve.
On my mother’s last trip through Arkansas she came across a quirky little thrift store on the side of the highway. She just had to stop in, and she found me something that she considered to be a real treasure. It was a handwritten diary from 1949. She didn’t read it, she wanted to let me be the first.
I must admit, it was a bit different from what I usually collect. But I love history, and I couldn’t resist the thought of getting a first hand account of a slice of life from that year. I was expecting it to be full of doodles, crushes, and silly secrets. But, instead I was incredibly disturbed by what I found.
I would like to go ahead and transcribe the most important entries, the ones that lead up to the scene that has haunted me ever since I read it. I am posting this here in the hopes that someone will know the name of the person who wrote this, and what became of her.
June 3rd, 1949
I met my new stepmother for the first time today. She’s very different from how my mama was, that’s for sure. We traveled all the way from Mississippi to be with her, she wanted us to come and be part of her church community. Her church community is very important to her. She’s a funny kinda lady, but she’s not mean. She gave me this journal after all.
She’s very happy, she laughs and smiles all the time. Papa seems real fetched with her. It’s kinda funny cause Papa has never been a real religious kinda person. But now that we’re living with my new stepmother he wants to be. Oh well he hasn’t been this happy in a long time, so I will go along with it for his sake.
June 4th, 1949
There was a big meeting at my stepmothers church today. I thought it was kinda funny cause I thought church was supposed to be on Sunday. But she told me that good Christians go to church every day. I hope she doesn’t mean EVERY DAY cause that sounds real boring.
The people at her church are fine. They smile and laugh a lot just like her. It’s funny though cause they only smile with their mouths. They talk about The Lord just about all of the time. I saw other children at the church but they didn’t talk to me. They didn’t play or anything, just stood there all still and quiet. Papa told me they are just shy and if I give them some time they will want to be friends. I hope so.
June 5th, 1949
Today was real church day. There were even more people there than yesterday! We were there for hours, I thought I was gonna scream. Papa was giving me this look like you better not say a word. So I didn’t. Those kids still won’t talk to me. Papa still says to give them time.
These people love church more than anything else in the world. They were singing a lot, but no one was allowed to dance or play piano. My stepmother told me it was a sin. I’m not sure exactly why playing piano and dancing is a sin, but singing is okay, but Papa agreed with her. I guess he didn’t tell his new wife about how my mama used to dance for him.
Last night my stepmother came up to my room and made me pray before I went to bed. And then she read me some stuff from her bible. I wanted to tell her that I was too old for bedtime stories, but I also didn’t want to hurt her feelings.
I hope those other kids talk to me soon. I’m starting to feel real lonely.
June 15th, 1949
I think I finally made a friend today! Her name is Rebecca and she’s real quiet. She didn’t say a lot, and she didn’t really play much either. She lives in the house closest to ours, which is still far enough away that I can’t even see it.
I asked her why the other kids won’t talk to me and she said it’s cause I’m new. It seems they don’t really like new people around here. That made me sad but at least Rebecca isn’t afraid of me.
On another note, my stepmother came up to my room this morning and had a fit. Her and Papa say that I’m not allowed to have dolls anymore. She said that I’m not to have idols before God. I don’t really like her all that much anymore. She doesn’t let me read books, or draw, or do anything besides work, work, work. She tells me it’s what God wants, and Papa agrees with her, even though I know that he never believed in God before now. I would be very sad if it wasn’t for Rebecca. At least I have one friend.
June 18th, 1949
Rebecca said something really funny today. I asked her about her parents and she said that she doesn’t live with her parents anymore! I asked who takes care of her and she said that her husband did! She told me that she’s thirteen, that’s only two years older than me. She doesn’t go to school, either, none of the kids here do.
You’d think that I’d be happy to not have to go to school, but I’m sad. I was hoping that I could go to school and have a chance to see other people and kids and get out of the house. But it seems like I’m just doomed to stay trapped in this house forever. Unless I get married in two years like Rebecca, which I really hope doesn’t happen. Rebecca is sad all the time, I wonder if it’s cause she misses her parents?
I told Papa about Rebecca’s husband and he got real quiet. He told me he didn’t want to talk about it, and then he told me that I shouldn’t talk to Rebecca anymore. I was really sad because I really like Rebecca. I think I’m going to talk to her anyways.
June 25th, 1949
I told Rebecca that I hate it here in this town, she told me to never say that. She told me that the grown ups get really mad when people say stuff like that. After that she got real scared and she left. I hope she still likes me, she’s my only friend.
June 26th, 1949
I saw Rebecca today, I was scared because I didn’t see her at all yesterday and I thought that she’d never want to see me again. She had bruises around her wrists again, the last ones were just starting to fade. She told me that her husband wouldn’t let her leave the house yesterday. She doesn’t talk about him very much, but when she does she always seems sad. And a little scared.
But today she was angry. I’ve never see Rebecca angry, so it surprised me. She usually just sits real quiet and listens while I talk about stuff. Today she was so angry that she started crying and banging her fists on the ground. “I HATE IT HERE” she kept screaming over and over and I had to calm her down because I was afraid someone would hear her.
My stepmother says that the only thing you’re supposed to hate is the devil, and anything to do with him. I think the people here would be very angry if they heard her say that. What’s the word my stepmother says? When you say something that’s different from what she thinks? I think it’s called blasphemy.
Anyways, she finally stopped yelling but then she just cried, and cried, and cried. I held her for a long time, and I thought it was funny because I’m younger than her, but just then I felt like the older one. I told her that I’m not happy here either. I really don’t get along well with my stepmother. She smiles all the time, but it’s not like a happy smile. It’s like the smile you do when you have a secret.
And papa isn’t any better. After mama died we stopped going to church, he said he didn’t want God anymore. But, I guess now that God gave him a new wife he’s changed his mind. I haven’t, though. Papa has a new wife, but I don’t have a new mama. That’s for sure.
July 3rd, 1949
I got to see Rebecca at church today, and I felt bad because she told me that she waited outside for me every day this week. I told her about how my stepmother didn’t let me out of the house one time this week because I had said hi to those boys at church last week. She said that she couldn’t trust me, and she even called me a whore. Which I thought was a bad word, but apparently she’s allowed to say it all she wants.
I told Rebecca about it and this time I was the one crying and she was the one holding me. I don’t care about what my stepmother said to me because I don’t care about what she thinks. What made me sad was that papa didn’t do anything. He just sat there and let her say those terrible things to me. Now that he has a new wife he doesn’t care about me anymore.
I told Rebecca that I wanted to run away and she got real scared. She kept telling me that I can’t, and I told her I’d rather die than stay here.
July 5th, 1949
Rebecca didn’t tell me why she didn’t come out to see me yesterday, but today she looked really awful. The bruises on her wrists and arms were there like usual, but today she had a bruise on her face too. And there was also a bit of hair missing off the top of her head. I hope it grows back, she has such pretty hair.
And then she said that she wanted to run away with me! I’m so excited! We’ll be just like characters in a book, setting off to find our fortunes! I was happy but Rebecca was sad and quiet like usual. I think maybe after we leave she will be happy again.
July 6th, 1949
I was up all night coming up with a plan. Every Saturday everyone meets in the church after lunch. After a few hours, the children go home so just the grown ups can worship. And then after an hour, the women go home, and then it’s just the men.
Rebecca worships with the women, I don’t think she’s old enough to be considered a grown up, but I guess because she’s married she’s an exception. When I go home with the children I’m going to pack up some food and stuff in a bag for us to bring. And then I will go and wait in the field where me and Rebecca always talk. When the women are done, Rebecca will run home as fast as she can. And then we are going to run away together. It’s a perfect plan! If we run into the forest, no one will ever find us! And we can live like Peter Pan!
I told Rebecca my plan. She seems really scared, but also excited. Today she actually smiled when I told her, and for the first time ever I think it was a real smile. The kind that makes your eyes crinkle up on the sides.
I’m really scared, I know it will be really bad if they find us, especially for Rebecca. The grown ups hate it when anybody leaves.
July 9th, 1949
Oh no things have gone really badly and I don’t know what to do. My stepmother stayed home from church for the first time ever today. When she was coming down the stairs this morning she fell and hurt her ankle real bad. It’s all purple and swollen and looks terrible. She can’t go to the church because she can’t walk that far, and Papa told me to stay home and look after her. I’m going to try and sneak off and tell Rebecca that it’ll have to wait until my stepmother can go to church again. She’ll be so upset.
I just told Rebecca, but she didn’t listen to me! I told her if she would just wait a few weeks we could go together, but she told me she was going anyway! She got so mad, she was yelling at me and saying that it had to be tonight. I’m so scared for her. She has no food or anything, and she’s all by herself.
And I’m really sad too. Rebecca was my friend, my only friend. I really wish she would wait on me. I’m hoping that she changed her mind before she actually left. We’re best friends and we’re supposed to stay together. Hopefully I’ll see her tomorrow morning at church.
July 10th, 1949
Something really bad happened at church today. Something really, really bad. I’m trying to write it down, but I can’t stop crying every time I think about, and I can’t stop thinking about it.
There’s a big cross inside the church, in the front so we can all look at it while we pray. Today when we got there everyone was crowded around it. At first, I didn’t know why and I didn’t really care. All I cared about was finding Rebecca. Oh God now I’m crying again, if I don’t get control of myself my stepmother will come up here and yell at me again.
Well we all come up to the big cross where a lot of people were praying and I saw that Rebecca’s husband was standing closest to the cross and that he was crying a little bit. And of course I thought that Rebecca had died. She had got hurt out there in the woods and someone had found her and brought her back here for the funeral. But, it was so much worse.
I started pushing past the people, trying to figure out what had happened. And then I saw it. There was a girl nailed up on the cross with pretty hair except a bald patch in the middle. And I just started crying. At first it was little sniffles and then it turned into big, loud sobs. I couldn’t stop crying all through the service. Even though my stepmother got real mad at me and told me to stop being a baby, and that crying for a sinner is like crying for the devil. But I just couldn’t stop.
I was crying for Rebecca. She was my friend, my only friend. But now I’m crying for myself. I’ll never be able to leave this place. Never.
July 11th, 1949
This is going to be my last time writing in this journal. Papa came in and talked to me last night before I went to bed. I didn’t get up to write it down because I was too tired. He hugged me last night as I was going to bed and I started crying again. My stepmother came running in to yell at me to stop it, and he told her that if she said one word to me he would hit her!
Even though I was crying it was hard not to laugh at her face when he said that. But, she has to do whatever he says, according to the church. She went back downstairs and I asked Papa if he still loved me.
He said of course and then he leaned in real close and started whispering to me real quiet. He told me that he was sorry that he got us into this mess but he was going to get us out. He said he was just playing along so the church people wouldn’t get mad at him and hurt us, but that if I would just trust him he would get us out.
Then he told me that he found this journal. I was really embarrassed, but he didn’t seem mad at all. He told me that it was too dangerous to keep a book like this around and that I need to destroy it. But I don’t want to destroy it, because this is all I have to remember Rebecca by. So, I’m just going to finish writing today and then I’m going to hide this journal somewhere. Hopefully I’ll remember it when we run away.
Before I said good night, I told Papa that we had to be together. He wouldn’t leave without me, and I wouldn’t leave without him. He promised.
I don’t know what to do with this diary, I really don’t. I can’t keep it in my house, I just can’t. I know that this all happened so long ago, and I can’t even confirm if it’s true or not. But I want justice for this girl. I know that the original owner of this diary is probably eighty by now, and I don’t even know if she’s still alive. But I want it to be returned to her.
The only problem is I have no idea where this takes place, I don’t even know the name of the girl who wrote this diary. There’s a pretty good chance that this took place in central Arkansas, because that’s where the diary was found, but I don’t know how much it has traveled in its 69 years of existence. Or why in the world it would be in a thrift store.
Now that I have typed this up, I’m turning it into the police station. I know there’s nothing they can do with it, but I just can’t keep it in my house. You see, ever since I opened this book I’ve been hearing something strange coming from my little library. It sounds like a little girl crying, and I’m hoping that once this book is out of my house the crying will stop.