The day after Pearl Harbor was bombed in 1941, Billie Baldwin wrote in her journal, “Mom washed today. I felt bad this morning. U.S. declared war on the Japanese.”
Most of the world was sitting just outside the confines of her small town in Ashe County where she grew up, but the thousands of entries in her diary are some of the most fascinating.
“Somebody yelled at us from two roads over that Pearl Harbor had been bombed,” Baldwin said. Before television, and too far out for newspapers to reach, people had to keep themselves occupied. Baldwin chose to chronicle every day of her life as it happened in short journal entries that span 17 volumes of small books.
She started when she was 15 years old. From entries about helping her mother was clothes, to raising up two kids, to getting married a second time to a preacher, all of it is covered in her diary.
“You remember the good things and the bad things, the fun things and the sad things,” Baldwin said of what she says are the three most important writings in her diaries. “The days Johnny and Jan were born are some of the most important.”
Baldwin and her husband, a preacher named John, traveled the country preaching. Her diary documents the day both of them were baptized in a stream.
One of the other writings she considers the most important is almost scrawled in capital letters.
“The saddest day of my life. My Johnny died,” she wrote, “Oh Lord, help me through the funeral. Thank you.”
You can feel the pain in her writing. Baldwin says the death of her husband was one of the hardest days of her life.
“I was looking out the window and cars were just going by, and I thought, ‘how can they do that? How can they just go on with life when I just lost mine?’”
As we sat with the 93-year-old woman on the porch of her West Jefferson home reading through the books, we laughed and cried. But mostly laughed. After the birth of her first child, Baldwin wrote, “I sho’ am tired!”
Three years ago, she made her last journal entry. Macular Degeneration has caused her to lose her eyesight and makes writing too difficult. But she made one last gut-wrenching writing to tell her beloved friend goodbye, “I am 90 now. I have written for 75 years. I love you little green diary. I’ll never forget you, you’ll be fine.”
Most people don’t remember what they were doing yesterday, much less a specific day 50 years ago. Billie Baldwin does.
Most every day of her beautiful life is chronicled. Bumps and bruises, joys and victories, they may slip from memory, but will never be forgotten thanks to 17 little books that have become her friends.