This story was published in The Modesto Bee on March 9, 2006
On New Year's Day in 1935, 10-year-old Connie White sat down and made an entry in the diary she'd received as a gift.
"Stayed up until ten and heard N.Y. welcome the New Year," she wrote, noting that she had read her Bible, Genesis 1, that day as well.
It became the first of more than 26,000 entries in 70 diary volumes -- she's on No. 71 now -- and four other journals. They fill two shelves of a book cabinet, with more stored in her north Modesto home.
"It's a history of an American family," said her husband, David Brown Sr.
A history, indeed, and a work in progress for the 81-year-old Modesto woman.
"Her mother and father had four children," he said. "They'd give every one of them a diary for Christmas. But she's the only one who kept up on it."
Writing is part of Connie's day, akin to getting out of bed, showering, dressing, eating and sleeping. Often, she'll write twice -- once around noon and again in the evening.
She's recorded her life as a young girl, a teenager, a wife, mother, grandmother, teacher, traveler and people person.
She's logged the family's moves, from the East Coast to the West Coast and ultimately to Modesto in 1987, where her husband worked in insurance and she was a receptionist at a social services agency.
She's noted the joys of daily life as well as the immeasurable sadness of losing two of her five children to auto accidents 13 years apart.
Those tragedies, both involving daughters, account for the only blank pages through the years.
"When Melanie died and Connie died, I couldn't write for a week or two," she said. "Once I got to the point where I could write again, I felt like I could deal with it."
Hers is a vast collection of experiences, hopes and dreams, of struggles and sorrows. Unlike many diarists, however, her writings aren't deeply personal and private. Anyone in her family can pick up a volume whenever they come to visit.
"We'll be talking about something and we'll wonder, 'What happened?' " Connie said. "We'll just go get a diary and find out."
"I'll come down with my son and daughter, and they'll say, 'What did you do on your 10th birthday?' " said the Browns' eldest son, David Jr. "I can tell 'em I had vanilla cake, 10 friends over and I got a bike that year. It's amazing."
David Brown and Connie White were married Aug. 15, 1953. And yes, there's an entry for that day, too.
"And from our honeymoon trip," she said. "But no, I didn't put everything in there."
When the Browns celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary in 2003, they gave each of their three surviving children a memento: Her diary entries from each of the 50 anniversaries, including this one from 1981:
"David wished me a happy anniversary right after 12 a.m."
Their children all became successful. David Jr., 49, is the chief executive officer of the YMCA in Santa Rosa. Peter, 44, is a former stage actor and now an attorney in Las Vegas. Carrie, 40, lives in Redondo Beach and is an expert in physical education for developmentally challenged children.
Melanie, like David Jr. a University of the Pacific graduate, was pursuing an acting career when she died at 23 in a crash in 1982.
Connie, the eldest, was a concert pianist before switching careers completely, returning to school to become an orthodontist in Berkeley. She died at 40 in 1995.
The joys far outweigh the disappointments: Trips to New Zealand, cruises and other travels. Birthdays, parties, annual excursions to the Big West basketball tournament in Anaheim. The Browns are big Pacific Tigers fans.
Visits from the children and grandchildren. Every day, another entry in the log of their lives.
"Our life seems so rich," Connie said. "We like people. We've met so many nice people. People tell me, 'You should write a book.'"
Write a book? She's written 74, with No. 75 in the works.
"It's just something I do," she said.