Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Opal Whiteley

When I discovered the diary of Opal Whiteley, 
I was transfixed.
Like Ann Frank, it is a child's journal. 
Her quaint way with words, and eternally open and strong heart
 in the face of harsh treatment is inspiring.

She is a sensitive child,
 living in a world richly populated with animal and tree friends. 
She describes finding solace in the arms 
of a big fir tree after a hard spanking, 
and enjoying the tree's song.

Opal Whiteley lived in wood cutting towns in Oregon, 
and was the most famous child of the early 1900's. 
She sang to earthworms and potatoes 
and through her child like wonder of the world, 
helped to re-enchant society
  after the horrors of WW1.

Here is a part of her diary. Although her mother seems
 to have little empathy for her, 
she has two adult friends who understand her.

  The man that wears gray neckties and is kind to mice 
did have thinks like my thinks. He did say for me 
to go write the fairies about it. And I did. I did write it on a gray leaf. 
I put the gray leaf in a mossbox at the end of an old log
 near unto the altar of Saint Louis. 

One of the books written about Opal, by the guy who wrote "the Tao of Pooh"

The man that wears gray neckties and is kind to mice 
knows about that moss-box where I do put letters for the fairies. 
He believes in fairies too. 
And we talk about them. He does ask me what I write to them about 
and what things I have needs for them to bring.

 I do tell him, and when the fairies
 do leave the things at the end of the old log,
 I do take and show them to the man that wears gray neckties and is kind to mice.
he is so glad. He does believe in fairies, too { 255 }

 As the family were dirt poor,
 Opals diary were sheets of paper, often the backs of envelopes 
or discarded butcher wrap. She wrote with crayon. 
They were were torn to shreds by a younger sister, 
and later laboriously pieced together in order to publish them.

Some more of her diary:
 We had lots on the table to eat tonight,
 because Jenny Strong is come. And most everything
 I did get to eat I did make divides of it for my animal friends.
 They will all have a good share.
 And they will be glad. There is enough for all
 to have a good amount to eat, which often isn't.
 I did feel a goodly amount of satisfaction 
sitting there at the suppertable tonight for a little time. 
I was thinking how glad the mice will be for the corn I have saved for them.
 And too, Brave Horatius will have good feels in his mouth
 when he sees that big bone. And the birds will like all the scraps
 that are on the plate of Jenny Strong 
if I can get them before the mamma gives them to that big gray cat. { 259 }

"I now am not at the table. 
I was only there for a very little while.
I am now under the bed"
(her mother sends her there to await punishment)

"I have wonders about folks.
They are hard to understand. I think I will just say a little prayer.
 My, I do have such hungry feels now. 
They at the table are not through yet. I make swallows down my throat.
 It is most hard not to eat what I have saved for my animal friends.
 But they will like it so I can wait waits until breakfast-time.
I can. In-between times
 I will have thinks and prayers. "

Some say she was mentally ill,
 and after being discovered living in squalor
 in the bombed out ruins of a London flat in 1948,
she was committed to a mental institution
 where she stayed for the remainder of her life.


  1. That is very unusual writing indeed. It wasn't just the style of the times either. What was it? Child speak? Pidgin? Her own language? Her mother sent her under the bed to await punishment :(

  2. Loved this post Denise what an interesting 'world' Opal lived in......
    That she could find solace in nature when times were tough must've been comforting.
    Glad her writings survived to be put into print.

    Claire :}

  3. http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/books/2012/08/the-diary-of-opal-whiteley.html

    You may find this interesting- I was enthralled with Opal as well and still love her diary , however it is not what it appears to be nor was she. A delightful mental illness, our Opal!

  4. OH what a fabulous story, thanks for sharing, I love hearing about things like this. Of course I came from a family of storytellers, so this appeals to me greatly! I will have to look this up. I'd love to read the book! Again I am so glad I stumbled upon this! Love your little softies!

  5. What an utterly captivating and enchanting story ... and very moving. I love the way she thought and love her friend 'the man with the grey neckties' for making her requests to the fairies come true and giving her some solace.

  6. Opal sounds fascinating. I am going to pin her name to my studio wall so I can read more about her when I have a bit of time. Great blog.

  7. Incredible, images fly to the foreground of my little brain, when reading this childs words.
    How lucky we all are to live where and when we do.
    More More!
    This goes to the top of my 'to read' list.
    Thank you and best wishes,
    Daisy J

  8. Thank you for this!
    I have a new obsession - reading all about Opal Whitely :)
    I've already followed all the links (including the New Yorker article), and now I'm off to start the book.

  9. Fascinating story - both the diary itself and the contested background to it's authenticity. Hadn't heard of the book or Opal before today, thank you for the introduction G+D.

  10. Thanks for the introduction to Opal Whiteley, Denise. I've just spent half an hour following links and reading up about her. Intriguing!

  11. Gosh fascinating....thankyou for the heads up. Must seek this out!

  12. Replies

    1. if you check on my Pinterest links, I have a whole board on Opal, and the photo of her grave will link you back to the actual name of the cemetery..

  13. Wow, thanks so much for posting this. I plan on reading that soon

  14. What a captivating story; I enjoy that she finds comfort in her "thinks."
    Thanks for the introduction!!

  15. This is a very fascinating peek into the history of someone i would otherwise never have heard of. I followed thru on Linda Sue's link and the comments below that article, so many variations into the story. Her name - Opal - also has many different colours and cannot be entirely pinned down, so appropriate. thankyou for sharing...

  16. This is a wonderful post, thank you so much for sharing this with us all, i really need to go and find out more now about this intriguing person, she sounds facinating.....x

  17. What a beautiful story and such evocative photos

  18. I love her story. Very touching and somehow heroic. I stopped by and read it for a moment and I found out that it is interesting so I finished the whole story. Thanks for the introduction.

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  19. What a fascinating touching and somewhat sad story... but her spirit and love for nature and animals seem to have nurtured her and helped her through her childhood.

  20. You do discover the most inspiring souls to share with us, thank you. Never do I leave here without finding the world to be bigger and more grand than it was when I arrived. xo

  21. Wow.
    wow wow.

    we have no clue sometimes...

  22. what a wonderful find. I will track it down and read it. Having worked as a volunteer in a mental institute, I can say there is not much to like about them!

    Lorraine xx

  23. Delighted to read this post Grrl.
    Had come across a book on this child that i never got to read ages ago and later wondered at her story... so this filled in a lot of critical details. Extraordinary story ... and after the horrors of war indeed!
    Really moving seen that image of the pieced together pages... and thinking of that siser who'd torn the precious pages.
    WOw... and thanks

  24. This diary of a young girl looks so intriguing and fascinating and of course, disturbing as it is hard enough for adults to have to go through war, let alone, children. Thank you for sharing the link.
    Teresa in California

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