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Autograph books hold sentiment that grounds us

Jan Hearne • Feb 12, 2013 at 9:23 AM

The year I turned 30 I was the director of a county museum — the county of my then husband’s family. Among the items on display was an autograph book that belonged to his great-grandmother when she was a young woman.

An autograph book is not what we think of today. It is not a collection of celebrity signatures but a book signed by friends and family filled with clever or not-so-clever sayings and good wishes.

The young Miss Fisher had written, “When this you see, remember me,” which struck me as particularly poignant since she had passed on long ago. Though I never knew her, I remember her from time to time, when I see that line somewhere else (it was common in autograph books of the day) or think of the young girl’s plaintive request.

The other night I was looking through some stored magazines and found my autograph book from 1963. I had forgotten it existed, but the sight of it brought back vividly sixth grade and the way it felt to be 11.

We wore uniforms — navy blue jumpers and white blouses with Peter Pan colors — so it was difficult to be trendy, but we did follow fads. Certain pens, lunch boxes, ink colors, watches, purses and such became popular over the years. In sixth grade, it was autograph books, a fad probably started by Molly, who seemed to start everything.

Mine was made by a company called Deb-u-teen. It was white with a pink rose and pink dots on it with Autographs written in gold lettering across the top.

On the back of the front cover was an “Index.” An untruthful index I might add. First heading: “My Poems — 6th yellow page,” followed by “My Collie” and “My Wish.”

Under that were “New Poems — 3rd blue page,” followed by “Lilies of the Field” crossed out and marked “reject,” and “Johnny Cake 4th blue page.”

Those poems don’t exist, and I have no memory of them or the addition of the term “Johnny Cake” to my vocabulary. Was I writing an ode to fried corn bread or to a toilet bowl freshener?

The first sentiment in my autograph book came from my soon-to-be-former best friend, Diane. “When you are old and have some twins, Don’t call on me for diaper pins. In case of fire, look in corner.” And, when you looked in the corner, it said, “Not now nut, ‘in case of fire,’ I said.”

Carol wrote, “Roses are red, Violets are blue, If skunks had a college, They’d call it Pee U!”

Eleanor, who would become a short-lived friend in high school said, “With your pretty brown eyes, and your pretty blonde hairs, You are one of the prettiest in the world. Since you are eleven you are very pretty.” None of that is true. At 11, I was a mess, and I have the photographs to prove it.

Dear Cindy, who remains one of the sweetest people I’ve ever known, wrote, “Out on the ocean, on a little rock, are three little words forget me not.”

Cindy’s sentiment, generations later, echoed Miss Fisher’s. It makes me realize how my generation was, at that point, as influenced by the 19th century as it was the 20th. Perhaps being rooted in the manners and mores of an earlier time helped us when the world capsized that Nov. 22, and never quite righted itself again.

Jan Hearne is the Press Tempo editor. Reach her at jhearne@johnsoncitypress.com.

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