Tuesday 13 March 2018

My Mother’s Autograph Book

My mother kept an autograph book, Schoolday Memories, when she was very young, that appears to have notes from all of her classmates from May 1928, when she lived in Oregon, USA, to 1937, after she had moved to Alberta, Canada. The book is in the possession of my older sister.

The note on the front page indicates contributions span the years from grades six to eight. But the names actually include grade five friends and go into her high school days.

Now you would not think you could learn a lot about families from such a memento. But this one has a great deal of interesting information, about Mom and her friends.

One of the early pages shows the names of Mom’s teacher and her best friend, her interests in playing piano and picnicking and favourite flower, while attending Kenwood School in Bend, Oregon. It appears she added to the items after she moved to Canada: a sweet pea under flowers; swimming and hockey games under sport. The latter was certainly a new Canadian activity to her, although I am sure she only watched others play.

You can tell from the dates, names of people and the schools she attended just when she came to Canada. Many of the comments are precisely dated and I recognize the names of some of the people.

The first people to sign lived in Bend, Oregon, and attended Kenwood School with Mom. Altogether 24 schoolmates left some very nice messages between 10 May and 15 May 1928. The tone and words indicated that they seemed to all know Mom was moving away at the end of the school year:
·         May your memories of me be pleasant ones. Lotus M. Wilkinson
·         Remember, the world will make way for the girl who knows where she is going. Don’t forget me, for I won’t forget you. Kathleen Duffy

Many wrote short poems, like the first entry:
May 10, 1928
Dear Norma,
A place for my name in your album,
A place for my love in your heart,
A place for us both in heaven,
When true friends never part.
La Vena Conover, Bend, Oregon

Some words written by 10-year old children 90 years ago still ring true:
May 10, 1929
Dear Norma,
For whatever men say in their blindness,
In spite of the fancies of youth,
There’s nothing so kingly as kindness,
There’s nothing so royal as truth.
Your friend forever,
Beulah Vaughan
This poem was from Nobility, written by Alice Cary in 1849, and obviously well-remembered and deemed appropriate to pass on, by a grade-school girl. Beulah went on to marry a soldier, Emmit Neal Weatherly. She was living in Georgia, USA, when she died in 2010. I do not believe she and Mom ever corresponded after their school days together. I am sure Mom would have been interested to learn what happened to both La Vena and Beulah.

Mom’s teacher at Kenwood School was 25-year old Miss Esther L. Rebstock. She was born in Oregon of German and American parents. On the 1930 census, she was recorded as single and rooming with several other teachers, very possibly also working at Kenwood. She had some sage advice and even wrote in her address in case Mom wanted to send her a letter down the road.

I found quite a few students on the 1920 and 1930 Oregon censuses which gave me an idea of the makeup of Mom’s community of friends. Most lived in the city of Bend but a few, like my mother, were bussed in from rural areas. Some were born outside of the state; some parents had emigrated from other countries. From the census data it appears some of the children had moved to Bend before 1928 and then away before 1930. La Vena Conover, whose poem is quoted above, was one of those who moved to Bend from California before becoming a classmate of Mom’s. She moved to Portland, Oregon, before 1930.

Friends in Irricana and Keoma, Alberta, first signed the book on 8 January 1929. All her friends in Canada had the same feeling for her as a happy, engaging and wonderful person. Here is what Hazel Lester said:

This may have been paraphrased from a Hungarian proverb or wedding toast, although I have no idea where Hazel found it.  Hazel was my Dad’s cousin and the one that introduced my parents to each other.

The comments in the book started on the first page and continued every other page (right-hand sides) until 14 November 1929. Then she reversed the order and people signed the left-hand pages, starting on 25 March 1931 and worked backward to the front of the book. The last person to sign the book was Connie Neufeld on 18 June 1937. By that time, Mom was attending Normal School in Calgary.

Mom was not through with her autograph book when she finished school, though. She went back to pages signed by friends and classmates in later years and added notes about them, such as on the note from Hazel Lester above and Harvine McCune below: where they attended post-secondary school, what they trained in, where they travelled, who and when they married and whether they had children. Incidentally she did the same thing with her yearbook – adding notes about people she had attended school with.

Harvine was Harvine Zelda McCune, daughter of a local farmer and preacher. She married another farm-boy, Arvid Gilberg, who had come to the area with his family, from Sweden, in 1924. Harvine was also a close neighbour of Hazel Lester. Mom’s notes indicate she knew Harvine well and followed her family’s events.

Interestingly, in a book about the Kathyrn-Irricana-Keoma history, KIK Country, there is a photo of a class at Irricana School which I believe was taken in 1929 and has my mother with many of her friends who signed her autograph book. The people are not identified, but I am sure Mom is the little fair-haired girl in the middle of the third row holding the flowers. I am trying to track down some people who may have more information about the picture, the school and the area to see if I can tie the photo to the autograph book and hopefully get a better copy. I do know who some of the children are, having got to know the people in later years.

The things people said about and to Mom gives a very clear indication of the kind of person she was and what her friends thought of her. Their comments are no surprise to us as she was a warm and loving person, one who greatly valued family and friendships her entire life.

The principal of Irricana School, T. A. Bickell, shown in the class photo, wrote in Mom’s book, “I wish you every good gift that you may aspire to in life. ‘There is no one that the world needs so much as a cheerful human’” We were blessed with having that lovely, cheerful lady as our Mom.

Addendum: Here is the autograph book mentioned in the comment from Alick, below.