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Reclaiming a life…The Red Leather Diary by Lily Koppel

What do you think it would feel like to be ninety-two years old when one day someone hands you back your teenaged self? That’s exactly what happened for Florence Wolfson Howitt in July 2006 when a New York Times reporter reunited Florence with the five-year journal she received as a gift for her fourteenth birthday on August 11, 1929. For the next five years,Florence faithfully recorded a few lines each day about her life—her writing aspirations, romances, the glamorous world of New York City, books she read, her activities, and so forth.

I just finished reading The Red Leather Diary: Reclaiming a Life Through the Pages of a Lost Journal by Lily Koppel that tells Florence’s story and the life the journal assumed after it was fished it out of an old steamer trunk thrown in a dumpster when the management of her New York City apartment house decided to clean out the basement.

Florence came from an affluent family—a prosperous doctor father and a mother who owned a couture shop on Madison Avenue—and lived a life of summers in the Catskills, afternoon tea at fancy Manhattan restaurants, dancing at the Copacabana, tennis and horseback riding in Central Park, weekly visits to Broadway, art museums and the Philharmonic, all a world away from the Great Depression.

Koppel grew fascinated with the young girl who so vividly recorded her life each day that she hired a private investigator to try and locate Florence. A couple of lucky breaks and a few telephone calls later, Koppel traveled to Westport, Connecticut and reunited Florence with her five-year journal. The owner held the journal in her hands, read some of the entries aloud and told Koppel, “You’ve brought back my life.” Wow!

The 2008 publication of Koppel’s book gave the ninety-two-year-old Florence a new life of interviews, public appearances, magazine articles, a spot on NBC’s Today show and the celebrity she longed for as a young girl. She thanked Koppel for getting her out of “the ghetto of old age.” She enjoyed an exciting few years before her death in March 2012.

As anyone who has heard me speak knows, I am a strong believer in keeping a five-year journal. It takes only five minutes a day and the benefits are endless. I will soon begin my eighth year of documenting the life my husband and I enjoy. It’s not the glamorous existence Florence lived, but each night as we review the previous years’ activities, we relive the ups and downs, the thrilling and the mundane, the joy and hope of our days together.

With the New Year right around the corner, now is the perfect time to commit to keeping a five-year journal. Carve out five minutes from your day and dedicate it to yourself and the pages of your five-year diary. You’ll be so glad you did.

Don’t have a five-year journal yet? That’s no problem. Click here to check out those offered by Writing Your Life. Buy one for yourself and for everyone you love. It’s a perfect holiday gift that keeps on giving

To read the first story, “Speak Memory,” Lily Koppel wrote in the New York Times about Florence’s five-year diary, click here.

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