Saturday, March 5, 2011

A Little Treasure

A few years ago we did some work on this 100-year-old farmhouse. The crew of guys working on the project joked about finding money in the walls. Every day when I'd come home from work, I'd ask them where they piled the money, and every day they'd shake their heads and say, "Just more newspaper and bat crap." One day they pointed to a little pile of things they had uncovered....and in the pile was this little old book.

It had a strange picture on the cover of a baby holding a bottle and sitting by a chicken. The word 'ALBUM' looked to be written in a Japanese font and was outlined with shiny gold foil swirls. I was thrilled to sit down with my new treasure and open its pages, hoping to find old family photographs...and yes, some old currency pressed between its dusty pages. I found neither.

Do you remember autograph books? That's what this album really is and as I paged through it, I realized that it belonged to my husband's grandmother, Mary Jackson, and her sisters, Clara & Edna. Turns out it was a Christmas gift to the three girls from their teacher, Minnie Olson. (Wow, they had to share?) It was filled with little verses and writings in fountain pen and pencil from schoolmates who attended the Glenwood Academy back in the early 1900s.

Each entry was dated and signed, and many of the kids included the names of their hometowns -- all small villages within 60 miles of the school. What fascinated me was not only the superb penmanship, but the content of writings. When I was 10 or 11 years old, my friends and I all had autograph books. But when we exchanged them, we wrote silly things to each other like this:

When you get old,
And think you're sweet,
Take off your shoes,
And smell your feet.

But I'll tell you what, these verses, written in the early 1900s, had a much different flavor. Here are couple samples:

When angels pull the curtain,
And pin it with a star,
Remember you have a friend
Tho' she may wander far.

When the golden sun is setting
And your heart from care is free,
When o'er thousand things you're thinking,
Will you sometimes think of me?

I had forgotten how many of these verses referred to death...the final curtain...the golden sunset. As I read through them again recently, it made me wonder if these kids really thought that much about dying at these tender young ages. Or maybe death was just something that people commonly used as subjects of their poems and personal writings? Were these verses just some standard pieces they practiced in their penmanship class or recited for their teachers? I'm really not sure. Didn't these young people feel I did at that stage of my life?

I did find a couple with some humor woven into their lines - like the one written on January 26, 1910 by the girls' friend, Bertha, a Glenwood girl:

I eat when I'm hungry
I drink when I'm dry
If a tree don't fall on me,
I'll live 'til I die.

The girls even let their brother, Claude, write on a page:

Be kind and be gentle
To those who are old...
For kindness is dearer
And better than gold.

Mary, who was ready to graduate, wrote to her sisters on January 28, 1906:

Dear Sisters Clara and Edna,
Childhood is a bough where slumbered
Buds and blosoms many numbered
Bloom on and make forever
The world more fair and sweet.
Your loving sister,
Mary D. Jackson

Almost sounds like she was bidding her childhood good-bye, doesn't it?

Here's one from Adolph. Now this kid was a thinker...

The hours are viewless angels
That still go gliding by
And bear each minute's records up
To Him who sits on high.

Contemplate the meaning of this kind of 'stumped' me. It's not a beautiful image...not a particularly deep thought.

Put a stick in memory's woodbox for me.
Your Friend,

At the book's end there was one page written in Norwegian by a girl named Peggy. I tried Googling the words but came up empty. I'll have to bring my little treasure to church next Sunday and find someone who can translate. If I'm successful, I'll let you know...