ALAMEDA -- Julia Park Tracey knew her great-aunt Doris Bailey Murphy since childhood and considered her a fairy godmother, someone who she could talk to about anything.
Tracey always thought of Murphy as a remarkable, special person but didn't realize the stories she held until Bailey died last year at the age of 101.
As Tracey worked to clear out her great-aunt's house, her mother gathered all of Murphy's papers into a box and asked if Tracey wanted them. Though she didn't know what the box contained, Tracey knew it was something important to her aunt.
Inside the box, she found manila envelopes labeled by year, from 1925 to 1948 and from 1987 to 2011, the nearly 40-year gap covering the years she was married. Opening the envelope labeled 1925, she found a diary written in a loose-leaf notebook.
"I began to read the first page and Murphy had written 'I have decided to keep a diary in which I can confide my dreams and ambitions'," Tracey said. "I couldn't have asked for a more perfect beginning."
The 1925 and 1926 diaries have formed the first volume of the Murphy diaries titled "I've Got Some Loving to Do: The Dairies of a Roaring Twenties Teen."
Edited by Tracey, a distinguished Alameda writer, editor, journalist and blogger, they bring the young Jazz Age teen to life and are the first step in a full-time, ongoing project.
Tracey described her great-aunt's writing as charming and arresting, combining 1920s era slang and cultural mores with teenage concerns and surprisingly profound insights for girl of 15.
"She starts talking about the boys she likes and a new dress she loves and then goes on to say her parents are so unfair," Tracey said. "She's typical, but different because she's articulate and descriptive."
As editor, Tracey published the diaries as they are with corrections to standardize spelling and abbreviations. Nothing was omitted and she used 175 footnotes to explain relationships, locations and cultural prejudices of the times.
Acting as editor brought her great-aunt back.
"Doris is so alive in me and living again through these diaries," Tracey said. "It's a completely uncooked for gift."
As she continues to read and transcribe into Murphy's later years, Tracey sees the seeds of the great-aunt she knew and points out a photograph of a young Doris with a big white bow on her head.
"We called her the 'big bow girl' because she liked attention," she said.
Though the first volume is fun and entertaining, the subsequent years become more historically relevant through the 1930s as Murphy attends college and comes to live in San Francisco, clear in what she wants to accomplish and often acting as a champion for others.
"I look at these diaries as a primary resource for historians, women's study students and feminists. Doris came of age when women got the right to vote and she exercised that and was very political," Tracey said. "She's a heroine for everyone."
Tracey will share more stories about her great-aunt at two upcoming Alameda events.
On Oct. 12, she'll do a book reading and signing at Books, Inc. where fans are encouraged to come in Roaring Twenties attire. That night, Tracey's daughter, Mia Romero, a professional actor, will perform a playlet from a one-woman show about Murphy that Tracey and her daughter are working on.
More costumes along with music and a speakeasy-style cocktail party will take place at Swell Bar on Oct. 13, heralding the debut of the Rebel Girl cocktail in Bailey's honor, described by Tracey as very feminine but with a sassy kick.
"This has been a real process of discovery," Tracey said. "I'm going to use the funds from the diaries to create a scholarship at Reed College, Doris's alma mater, in her name."
What: "I've Got Some Lovin' to Do: The Diaries of a Roaring Twenties Teen (1925-1926)," iUniverse, $18.95.
When: Reading at 7 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 12 at Books, Inc., 1344 Park St., Alameda, 510-522-2226; and speakeasy-style cocktail party at 8 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 13 at Swell's Bar, 1539 Lincoln Ave., Alameda, 510-522-6263.