Life's Notes

An Annapolis family lists its old kitchen notebooks--a hodgepodge of tidbits, tidings and to-dos--as a family treasure.


In the time before cell phones and pagers and voice mail, grown-ups had to use their ingenuity to keep track of their kids. Barbara and Gary Jayne, parents of five children born over a span of 10 years, used kitchen notebooks.

For seven years, from 1975 to 1982, the Annapolis family kept a spiral notebook by the telephone in the kitchen to record the comings and goings. When they stopped, Matt, the baby, was finishing high school and the only one left at home. One of the final entries is a betting pool on the birth date of the first grandchild.

Chances are $1 each, it reads. Half to the winner, half to the baby.

This past Easter weekend, the house on Harness Creek was full again. All the kids (now 32 to 42 years old), their spouses and six of seven grandsons returned for one last holiday in the converted waterfront dance hall that has been the family home for 35 years.

Barbara and Gary Jayne have sold the house and are moving to Delaware in June. They will start fresh in a smaller beach house in South Bethany, and during Easter weekend they distributed the last of the furniture and mementos among the children.

All except the kitchen notebooks.

Barbara Jayne rediscovered them in a box during the winnowing of a lifetime of possessions, and she stayed up most of that night rereading them and remembering.

One entry is a message to call the hospital, and it is clear from what is written there that a child has broken a bone. Barbara Jayne was astonished to realize that she couldn't remember which child or which bone.

"There were five of them, after all," she says, laughing now. "And I have to say that none of them ever got left anywhere. At least not for long."

I went downtown with Bill and Teresa. If that's not OK, I'm sorry. Matt ...

Tom -- Write down all your violations for the insurance company. Dad ...

I hope somebody knows where Matt is -- he wasn't in bed when I got up. Dan.

It was on a Marriage Encounter weekend with her husband that Barbara Jayne first learned about kitchen notebooks. It was supposed to have a somewhat higher purpose than just recording phone messages and keeping track of family. It was supposed to be somewhat inspirational, too.

Sept 13, 1975

Dear All,

The Steins shared what I think was a good idea with us last night. A log book always available by the phone to write down phone messages, where you are going if you leave and no one is here, reminders and even words of wisdom you might want to share with the rest of the family. So -- this is it. Give it a try.

Have a happy day.

Love, Mom.

But the inspirational purpose seems to have gotten lost in the traffic. The second entry reads:


Before you leave please pick watermelons, check Linda's sink and leak. Can we get clothes from Murrays?

Love, B.

Barbara Jayne would try valiantly to lift the level of discourse in the kitchen notebooks: "Let's all have a good Advent to prepare for Christ's birthday." But then real life would intrude: "To whom it may concern: I am tired of washing clean clothes."

If the kitchen notebooks never developed into "words to live by," they did become a patchwork journal of a time in the Jaynes' family life that might have raced by without leaving even a fingerprint on anyone's memory. The Jayne kids had neighborhood jobs almost before they could add up their wages, and everybody played sports. Gary, a naval architect and marine engineer, traveled a great deal, and Barbara substituted, volunteered and returned to school during the notebook years. There are lots of entries instructing daughter Teresa to cobble together dinner.

There is ground meat in the fridge.

But from the chaos of the notebooks, covered with doodles and stained with coffee and who-knows-what, snapshots of family life come into focus like Polaroids. So do word pictures of the kids. Their personalities emerge in the notes they left and in the notes written about them.

Teresa, the only girl and the middle child, was the cook and the boss.

I don't know what you want to do with the cookies, but go ahead and do it. Teresa.

Dan was the straight arrow. Tom was the oldest and could be counted on to pick up the slack in the parenting rope. David could be a smart-alecky charmer.

Mommy. Do not worry. I will do the dishes when I get home. Love and kisses, Davey.

Matt was always trying to get his act together by getting up early.

Wake me up early. Matt.

You can tell from her handwriting whether Barbara was in a hurry, angry or pensive.

Dear Teenagers, began one long note in graceful, composed script.

I love you all and would like to share some feelings with you, some of my gut level feelings when you folks are late coming home and you don't call.

The rest of the page is filled with a vivid description of what worry feels like and what it looks like.

I can't sleep and there are knots in my stomach. I feel sick and scared. I pray a lot and imagine the worst. I go to the bathroom and I eat. I feel foolish, silly, nervous.

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