I love to curl up in a big chair with one of our family autograph books. My late mother’s album was given to her by her sister in 1934. The handwriting is childlike because she was only eight years old at the time. Some of the little guests to her book drew or painted pictures on their pages. Often tea was mentioned. One page reads, “Drink your tea, think of me. Drink it hot, For-get-me-not!” This book was circulated, enthusiastically, for three years and then tucked away. Her brother wrote in the book at five, seven, and fifteen years of age and was the only contributor during those years. I was surprised to find an entry made in 1984 by my eldest daughter. Fifty years after my mother received the book, she knew where it was and wanted her granddaughter to know about autograph albums.
During the thirties and forties, people brought their autograph albums to special events. When the school year was finished, teachers and friends were asked to sign them. Nurses signed books belonging to grateful patients after hospital stays. New friends, on vacations, exchanged autograph books long enough to write a poem or address. The autograph book often held a place in one’s luggage, school bag, or purse. My mother went a step farther. She also carried a tiny book, just two inches by three, covered in green silk and embroidered with a tiny puppy. In that book, she recorded poems and quotations in the tiniest writing. She could draw upon this resource when asked to write in someone’s album. I treasure the little green book.
In our collection, there is a faded blue velvet album with ivory trim that dates back to 1880. This book belonged to my husband’s great-grandfather. Many pages dated in the late 1800s are filled with lighthearted best wishes from his friends in Eastern Canada. There are no entries during great-grandfather’s early years of pioneering in Western Canada. The book resurfaced in the 1920s and was signed by nurses during a hospital visit, a sibling from Vancouver, and some of his grandchildren. The handwriting in this book is artistic and fine, and there are ink splotches, here and there, from the straight pens used at the time.
I also cherish my father’s special autograph book, which served as a birthday book in his teen years. Starting with his high school graduation and continuing for decades, he invited friends and relatives to write their birthdates and thoughts in the little book.
I have misplaced my girlhood autograph album, but I feel motivated to buy a new one so that years from now my great-grandchildren can read it and know that I lived a life filled with friends and simple joys. I doubt if my Facebook page will still be accessible in a hundred years.
Now that school is out, maybe you can share an old family autograph album with your children and grandchildren. Perhaps this sharing will lead to shopping for an album. You can recycle a gently used one or search museum gift stores for something new. Enjoy the hunt, and be sure to stop for cookies along the way.
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