BATAVIA – Edward Dlugopolski’s first official entry in 1987 was a list of frames he was buying for his portraits. But by May 4, 1988, he began what had become his daily log with a list of chores: He stained the patio furniture and did a portrait.
On May 11, 1988, he recorded that he “mowed the lawn and the garden area, cultivated the soil, planted petunias, transplanted daisies and planted zucchini, cucumbers and sprayed for weeds, planted peppers, tomatoes and dahlias.”
And so it went for the next 24 years that Dlugopolski, 80, of Batavia kept a log of his daily life. He has more than 8,000 handwritten pages in a stack of spiral notebooks. A retired art, social studies and U.S. history teacher, Dlugopolski said he just wanted there to be a record.
“We went to the Foxfire and spoke to one of the waiters in Spanish, talked to the owner for 15 minutes,” Dlugopolski said. “Anybody else, other people involved, I write their names down. Who did we chat with? A lot of details that are very accurate. I don’t embellish.”
• • •
Dlugopolski and his wife, Joyce, 75, have lived in Batavia for more than 30 years and are well-known for their support for the local arts community.
Dlugopolski’s studio at the rear of the couple’s property is jam-packed with memorabilia and framed art, much of it his – including 15 self-portraits – and those of his friends and colleagues in the art world.
And this is also where he also keeps his daily log.
Dlugopolski’s notebooks begin in pencil, then branch out into different colors of ink, depending on his mood. He prints and underlines for emphasis.
The entries go like this: On Dec. 12, 1988, he bought a nine-foot Christmas tree for $20 at Onnie’s. The next day, his entry was “Decorate tree!” and noted that he went to pick up 250 greeting cards from Crown Graphics.
On Dec. 14, 1988, he wrote Christmas greetings and prepared the cards for mailing.
And so it went. On Dec. 16, some friends from Evanston came to visit from 1:15 to 10:30 p.m. He stopped at the Clay and Caboodle, a now-closed Geneva art supply store. “Jack’s car has a leak in hose. Try to patch it. Joyce [his wife] made a great dinner and dessert.”
On Dec. 31, 1988, the entry notes Dlugopolski hooked up the Magnavox VCR he received as a retirement gift in 1987.
History professor Stanley Arnold, who teaches at Northern Illinois University in DeKalb, said Dlugopolski’s record keeping reflects a practice from an earlier time.
“People are not doing this anymore,” Arnold said. “It was pretty common in the 19th century, keeping track of temperature and snow. There is definitely some value in what he is doing.”
Arnold said a historian would be interested in Dlugopolski’s daily logs because it would not only reflect the details of his life, but show the transition of the Fox Valley from a small town to a suburban area now part of the greater Chicago area.
“This should definitely be in a repository by an historical society of some kind,” Arnold said. “It would be a reflection of small-town life. ... This would be great.”
While Dlugopolski is creating a handwritten footprint of his life in his notebooks, others do that electronically with social media, Arnold said.
“I don’t Twitter, but my kids, who are 10 an 14, have friends who do,” Arnold said. “And we’re getting a lot of the same thing: The weather, what they are doing and how they are feeling. And in some cases, random thoughts and daily activities. It’s an earlier version of what we see today in social media.”
Batavia Depot Museum Director Carla Hill said the museum would be very interested in having Dlugopolski’s written record, should he decide to donate it.
“It represents daily life,” Hill said. “Most people do not record their daily activity, even in diaries – it’s just special events or family events or birthdays or holidays or things like that – but not on a daily nature.”
Hill said Dlugopolski’s notebooks would be especially interesting for people researching what the town was like during the period he was writing about.
“I think that’s amazing,” Hill said of Dlugopolski’s dedication. “We would accept it if he decided to pass it on. Those things are invaluable, especially mentioning businesses and the weather. We would absolutely love that.”
• • •
Dlugopolski was born in Back of the Yards in Chicago, the son of Polish immigrants – sort of. His grandparents came to the U.S., his mother was born here in 1906, and at the age of 3 they took her back to Poland, where she was raised.
His mother returned to the U.S. at age 19 in 1926, but his father came first in 1924 when he was 17. His father and an uncle took a boat from Poland to Canada and snuck into the U.S.
“They almost got deported,” Dlugopolski said. “But my mother was here.”
He grew up bilingual, able to speak, write and read Polish as well as English.
Dlugopolski’s talent won him a scholarship to study at the Art Institute of Chicago. He was drafted into the Korean War and served in the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea. After he returned to Illinois, he got his degree from the University of Chicago and started teaching.
Some people wonder why he devotes so much energy to recording the details of everyday life, he said.
“I began to realize that there is a lot happening that will be forgotten very quickly. Family life, meeting Joyce, my teaching career that began in 1957,” he said. “I thought it should be recorded – not because I’m a writer – but all the facts were there. I did not exaggerate, embellish or lie. I wanted it to be recorded. And it takes a lot of discipline to do that every day.”
There are a few gaps in his daily log, such as a 13-day period when he had successful cancer surgery in 1990 and was in the hospital.
Dlogopolski said he has not thought about donating his notebooks anywhere at this point.
“I don’t know what I’m going to do,” he said. “Leave them to Joyce, and she can do what she wants with them.”
As to what Joyce, his wife of almost 50 years, thinks of her husband’s daily log keeping, she said: “How inspiring.”
• • •
June 8, 1989, Dlugopolski recorded that he did “miscellaneous jobs all morning. Up at 5:45 a.m. Spray weeds. Mow circle. Water verbena. Wash windows in the FR [family room]. Sweep back driveway. Wrap … a gift.
June 11, 1989, the couple went to Antique Village in Union and ate dinner at the now defunct Little Bohemia Restaurant on Route 47 in Lily Lake.
Sept. 19, 1997, he records that he awoke at 6:50 a.m. “Warm, cloudy, humid. Joyce to the foot doctor appointment. Errands, buy milk – Oberweis – Call Rose at 8:45 and I’ll pick her up at 10. Go to the cemetery and check on the stone. I hope they spelled the name right.”
Jan. 24, 1998 goes on for three pages. “Call Kate. No answer. Call again, leave message this time. Pope John Paul is in Cuba for a first Mass. Joyce came home at 4:07.”
March 1, 1998, he recorded his complaint that the Sunday paper was “badly damaged, parts of it shredded. At 3 still no delivery.”
Fast forward to the current century: On Tuesday, Aug. 21, 2012, Dlugopolski was up at 6 a.m. “High 77, mostly sunny and pleasant. Back post thermostat 60 degrees. Read [five] newspapers. Phyllis Diller died. 9 a.m., finished reading papers. Envelope for mailing of sports articles to Ted my brother … $1.70 in postage, back home at 11:10 a.m. Trim beard and mustache.”
“Keep the grass from growing,” Joyce said with a laugh, noting his attention to personal grooming.
Continuing: “Limo driver arrived on time to drive to Chicago to attend a 2 p.m. performance program for Aug. 23 at Ravinia recital by Rachel Barton Pine … To bed 9:30 p.m.”