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  • Writer's pictureGregory Winters

The Diary of Norma Jane Reese Dolvin (1941)

What does a just-turned-sixteen-year-old girl living in the heart of America's Midwest know about the world? In some respects, almost nothing, yet...her wonderfully innocent perspective and simple optimism - long lost in today's chaotic flux - are values which most of us would give ten years of our lives to experience for one day. She has her family, her friends, her school, her town...her life - all at that unique and precious age where she is old enough to enjoy a new-found independence and direction, but where adults are still 'minding the store of life' for her.

As simple as this diary is, in many ways we are provided a glimpse of a girl living a miniature lifetime of events as she moves through changes that she is somehow aware of, but lacks understanding of their significance. There are plenty of entries about excursions to parks, swimming and bicycling, endless trips to the movie theatres, school and organizational extra-curricular events, dances, trips to the soda shops, or simply just 'messing around' with friends.

We get a glimpse of budding attraction the opposite sex and Norma Jane's shyness demonstrated even in the confines of her own journal. Family life is presented as more than just a 'value' nowadays bandied about by politicians and made into Madison Avenue marketing slogans. Rather, it is a rock-solid, matter-of-fact institution that is Norma Jane's foundation of reference for the things she says and does.

Even more beautiful are the 'non-events' of Norma Jane's everyday life: washing hair, doing household chores, reading, going for walks with friends or family, babysitting, having hot chocolate...all of those precious moments of life that only a child, it seems, can truly enjoy.

Norma Jane's life is certainly not without it's tastes of reality. She begins to learn about economics and managing money, and encounters the first issues of conflicts of interest with school, friends, and work when she enters the marketplace. Her year is also filled with an unusual amount of tragedy: A classmate dies in an auto accident, another takes his own life. Her great-grandmother has fallen down the stairs and seriously injured herself. The U.S. Naval Base at Pearl Harbor is attacked on December 7. Her step-father's brother-in-law (she has already endured the hurt of a natural father who has earlier left the family) dies suddenly of a heart attack at only 37. Yet, though it all, she returns (naturally) to 'her' world - the priorities of a teenage girl. (Note that on the very evening of her uncle's death, she is still excited about going to a dance and wearing her red corsage.)

We all are familiar with 1940's America - the world turbulence, the homeland sacrifices...the Greatest Generation is emerging right before the world's eyes with nary a clue as to their forthcoming historical significance. In a beautiful way, this simple little journal gives us a pure and innocent view from the eyes of a bright and bubbly teenage girl who in 1941 was exactly half as old as the age she would become my mother.

I know you will enjoy this document.

Norma's Diary

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