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by Abigail Van Buren

Diaries Give Extraordinary Voice to Ordinary Events

DEAR ABBY: Please tell "Tempted in Tennessee" NOT to destroy her diary of 50 years. She should leave it to a women's history archive, such as the Newcomb College Center for Research on Women in New Orleans.

Women's lives are reported far too often through the eyes of the men around them. Their writings and papers are either considered inconsequential or, if they're saved, they are archived with those of their spouse.

Diaries give historians and other scholars insights into the daily lives of ordinary women (and men) and are a valuable resource. Public television recently had a program about the diary of a midwife in early 18th-century Maine. This diary is the focal point of a marvelous book by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, "A Midwife's Tale." Reading the diary excerpts in this book gives one a picture of the daily experiences of women in that time and place. Ulrich went beyond just the daily activities and wove them into a historical background.

The place for longtime diaries is, ultimately, a research library. According to the archivist at Newcomb, if you do not want to give up the papers themselves, they can be copied onto acid-free paper and the papers preserved for historians. The archivist will also tell you how to maintain any privacy you feel is needed. (I am currently doing this with a collection of letters my uncle wrote during World War II.)

Please don't destroy records of lives -- let them become part of our history. -- SUE ROWLAND, SLIDELL, LA.

DEAR SUE: Thank you for pointing this out. "Tempted in Tennessee" did not include her name and address with her letter, so I'm printing yours in the hope that she (and others who keep diaries and journals) will see it. I was unaware that research libraries might find them valuable.

Since that letter appeared, I have been inundated with letters telling me that such memorabilia could also be of interest to libraries and historical societies. If the contents are very personal, they can be donated under the condition that the contents not be revealed before a specific period of time has elapsed -- say, 25 to 50 years.

DEAR ABBY: May I share with you what my 17-year-old stepson, Brandon McCoy, has done on his birthday since he was 11 years old? He has a party and invites many friends. He asks them to design a card or write a funny poem for him instead of buying a commercial card. He also asks them to bring cans of food instead of gifts. Friends deposit a sack of food as they enter the party, and no one sees who brought how much or what -- they just see a sack.

After the party, Brandon calls the food bank to come and pick up the "loot."

What inspired Brandon was seeing a man begging for food outside a fast-food place. He took the man inside and bought him a meal, and thus was born the tradition of celebrating his birthday by gathering food for hungry people in our neighborhood.

Abby, he has fed many families this way, and we are so proud of him. -- MAX AMOS, ANDERSON, IND.

DEAR MAX: I can see why you are proud of this generous-spirited young man. Brandon's idea could be implemented at holiday parties as well. Sharing the "wealth" with those less fortunate should be part and parcel of the holiday season.

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