The Yellow Notebook

October 18, 2010 | 25 comments

I’ve come to pack up my childhood into two Rubbermaid bins and three cardboard boxes.

I set bins by the bed, that quilted cocoon in which I dreamed little-girl dreams next to the snuggling stuffed mice. I shift my weight, wonder where to start. Hundred-year-old wood floors creak underfoot.

Clock rewinds, and I’m that fourth-grader with hair trimmed above the ears. I pull the Pac-Man diary with the broken lock from under the mattress. I turn to February 28, read words: “MASH had its last show tonight.”

And: “I played ATARI. Flipped the scoreboard on Space Invaders.”

And this: “Mom had coffee at Elva’s. I went, too.”

And downstairs on this packing-away day — 27 years later — Elva’s obituary is on Mom’s kitchen table.

In a blink.

In a vapor, time.


My childhood room is like a time capsule, held in dusty captivity by my unwillingness to dismantle memories. It’s a life wallpapered in French horns and Garfield and Smurfs and Scott Baio. But that’s the surface, these decorations on shelves and pictures Scotch-taped to closet doors.

For the wooden drawers cradle painful parts.

I find the yellow, wide-ruled Mead notebook entombed in the desk, under graduation cards. I had penciled pages of pain. “What a worthless thing, self-pity …,” I wrote. “Why do I feel this way?”

And this: “I feel like I’ve let the whole world down.”

I cross-check journal dates with my report card. Yes, yes, that’s when my grades dropped. I see that I missed nine days of school in one quarter alone.

I had drawn a smiley face in the yellow notebook, had given myself a pep talk: “Cheer up!”

I hold old words in even-older hands. Want to cry for the hurt of a girl I don’t really remember anymore. I think I will toss the notebook, keeping only the Pac-Man Book of Secrets, with its safe, happy stories about recess and school lunch.


The girls have come; they are squealing joy, straight up the wooden staircase. “Is it time, Mommy?” I slap the notebook closed, slip it into the drawer.

“Yes! It’s time!” I clap my hands, grab the camera, wear the smile.

They each have one bin, each take turns collecting Mama’s things.

“Was this special to you, Mommy?” The little one holds up a stuffed elephant, wants to know the story about how I got that from a friend at a third-grade slumber party.

Oldest daughter asks for the Monchhichi and a doll named Cecile with dust-crusted hair.

“You know, Mom?” she says, with hand on hip. “It’s really not a good idea for a person to watch Toy Story before we do something like this.” Because they really want to save everything.

They rescue a doll with missing arms, another with a lazy eye, another with marker-painted scalp. They keep the Girl Scout sash, 4H pins, jewelry box, Holly Hobbie.

Bins overflow with whimsy.

It’s only half a story, really.


They’ve gone to play now. I’m in a room that has been emptied of a former self.

Except for the entombed words.

I tape boxes shut, snap lids on bins, open single drawer to rescue single yellow notebook.

I open the sunny cover once more. I want memories to burn in just a bit, for this final viewing of words that feel like thorns. I’ll grieve this for a moment, then bury hurt in a garbage-bag vault.

I flip pages, am caught by surprise: I had quoted Scripture to myself. My memory has betrayed me, for I thought that I didn’t trust God at all. Yet I wrote these words: “Rest in the Lord. Wait patiently for Him.” Maybe there was a mustard seed after all?

I had drawn a picture of Jesus and wrote: “Accept all things about myself — good and bad.”

The voice of my pained youth speaks to the voice of my middle-aged life. “Accept all things. Good and bad.”

I close the notebook, stand up. By the radiator, the big black garbage bag sits gape-mouthed, hungry.

But instead, I turn away. Because I’m holding a piece of the story.

I yank tape from a sealed box, holding things I’ve decided to bring home to the farm. And I slip in a yellow, spiral-bound notebook.


Submitted as part of L.L. Barkat’s “On, In and Around Mondays” series — an invitation to write from where we are.

by | October 18, 2010 | 25 comments


  1. Nancy

    Oh. My. Stars. You had me right there with you, in that bedroom, packing those bins, remembering that last episode of M*A*S*H.

    What amazing testimony you give to the faithfulness of God, who sees us hurting silently, alone in our bedrooms, and gives us glimpses of His grace–even ones we don't remember seeing at the time.

    So glad you kept the notebook.

  2. Bina

    I have to be the biggest baby, as here I sit…tears streaming down my face. I had many of those notebooks, spiral bound and each filled with a heart I didn't understand and, therefore, hid away…except for on those pages.

    My old books are long since dumped…but your story reminded me od the mustard seeds He planted in me…even when I was nothing more than a petrified girl.

    I heart you…always.

  3. Sandra Heska King

    Oh, I'm so glad. I whispered to the very end. "Keep it. Keep it."

    Oh, Jennifer.

  4. Victoria

    Okay, so this has me in a teary mess right now. That mustard seed evidence is golden, girl!

  5. n. davis rosback

    a verse being kept for you to read in the future…and now kept for another read, perhaps, in the future by another someone.

    i love that.

  6. Amy DeTrempe

    I teared up. What a beautiful story. I am glad you didn't throw the notebook away.

  7. Angie Vik

    Good and wise post as always. Thanks for sharing your heart.

  8. Real Live Preacher

    Wow, it is SO rare to have an archive kept like this. I guess you have to tear it down for some reason? Wish you could leave it.

    I'm very jealous.

  9. Jennifer @ Getting Down With Jesus

    Gordon — I had to tear the room down because my parents — now in their early 70s — are downsizing from this grand old house that we grew up in. Most of us Dukes kids went home last weekend to retrieve our things.

    My room, in particular, had changed very little in the last 20-25 years. In fact, I found my very earliest writings — from age 6. It was an interesting study into who I was as a person — and how that's shaped who I am today. Some of it I liked. And some, quite frankly, I despised.

    I came across a card from a girl in elementary. She wrote: "You seem really nice, Jennifer, but you never pay much attention to me." It broke my heart.

    And I found first-grade letters written to our Brazilian foreign exchange student. "Why don't you escrever me?" I penned, using the Portguese word for TO WRITE. "You always escrever to your Mom and Dad, but you never escrever to me."

    It was odd, a sort of "re-feeling" the feelings I experienced as a child — the silly, the sad, the sorry. Still processing it all …

  10. Linda

    So much of this resounds in my heart Jennifer. I think the part I love best is discovering the seed of faith. There are times I get so down on myself for past failures and then something bears witness to the truth – I really was growing in grace and wisdom. It is all such a slow process.
    This was wonderful, as always.
    P.S. I love that quilt!

  11. HisFireFly

    Ahhhhhhhhhhhhh. My heart has jumped, shifted. God spoke to me now through your words..

    The good and the bad, joy and sorrow, He has a use and a plan for it all. We are not to leave any of it behind, for He created us whole.

    I was there in the room with you today.. well done.

  12. L.L. Barkat

    I could feel the dust… and the undusting.

    Great reflective piece. 🙂

  13. Jennifer @ Getting Down With Jesus

    All of your comments bless me so … Thank you for sharing your thoughts here. I enjoy the conversation. You all are helping me make sense of things. 🙂

    Linda — Yes! That's it! We were really growing in grace all along. I was just bowled over by that fact as I looked through my things. Really, I didn't think I had much faith at all at that age. How had I forgotten??? I had more faith than I thought, and that just came as a strange surprise.

    It's also made me a little more empathetic to the person I was (if that makes sense.)

  14. Sharon Cohen

    Your writing demands more than a passing glance as I am wont to provide at the end of a blog hopping day. I'm a new follower and promise to allow time to treat myself to the pleasures of your words.

    I've arrived her from Seedlings in Stone blog hop. I would be honored if you would stop by. I'm at #5 with When The Rains Return.

  15. Beth E.

    The joy and the sorrow of our past – and the way we deal with it all – help to shape us into the adults we are today.

    Enduring the good, the bad, and the ugly has made you a beautiful person, Jennifer. You are a blessing to me!

    Sorry I've not been around, lately. My computer is being repaired (using hubby's now) and we just returned from a trip. I just posted an update on my brother. Thanks for praying for him!


  16. Michelle

    So powerful.
    I was thinking about how my youngest is almost grown. How we will miss our boys when they are gone and we have an empty nest.

    Their arts and crafts adding decor to our house. Will they want to take these things with them? Or will that be all we have left as they begin life anew.

    Thank you for sharing with us.
    Yes, I have tears as I ponder.


  17. Charity Singleton

    This makes me ache in my soul. So much we would have to offer to those younger selves of ours. So much they have to teach us.

    Thank you for sharing this moment in that place.

  18. Cheryl

    What a treat to hear and see your room when you were a young girl. I had my own book of secrets that included names of latest crushes and thoughts about family and God.

    And I even had a stuffed elephant too – Peanuts. Not very original, I know. He was my favorite!

  19. Jennifer

    There are those things I wonder if I'll be able to throw away before I leave this world. They show hurt and faith–hurt I'd rather forget, but I keep them still. I could picture this all.

    (I think I'm the only woman whose mama dismantled the room immediately when I left home so she could have her sewing room! 🙂

  20. Ann Kroeker

    What a surprise–my early diaries are ridiculously meaningless.

    But then came the teenage years, when my journals became a place to pour out my anger, bitterness, frustration…I actually burned many of my journals in college, because I needed to let go of all of that. Sometimes I wonder what I wrote, but it's gone now. Ashes buried deep in the sand of a volleyball court outside my dormitory.

    I kept a few, though I haven't looked at them in decades. I wonder what words of Truth I might find in them?

    Maybe that's why I instinctively set those aside back them? Maybe they, like yours, held hope?

  21. Laura

    I have a notebook like that. I've come so close, so many times to chucking it. It is so embarrassing, after all. What if I died unexpectedly? Would people shake their heads in silent wonder at such silly ponderings? I think you are brave, Jennifer. I think you are very brave to stand where you are holding the yellow notebook.

    Mine is under the bed.

  22. Runner Mom

    Jennifer, so precious….I love the seeds of faith that were planted in you heart and recorded in the notebook. Glad you kept it. Not sure where mine is!


  23. Linda Worden

    I know someone else about your age who has some of this same story. I'm glad you're keeping the notebook. There's redemption in your story and redemption stories are painful. Thanks for sharing. Wounds will heal as they're spoken from the well within where new life springs with truth and life.

  24. ELK

    such a turning of a page so to speak .. this was a touching was you comment in my space ..blessings

  25. Carey

    Ah…things gone past. Still connected yet apart. Great way you put it in words, Jennifer. Thanks.


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