Thursday, August 04, 2005

You Ought To Cry, You Ought To Laugh, You Ought To Sign My Autograph...Book

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In 1972, when I was 11 years old, I got my first autograph book. Even at that young age, I was somewhat of a sentimental fool, wanting to "capture" moments in time by having people sign my book with personal messages.

Of course my peers weren't sentimental fools like me, and for the most part wrote silly rhymes and messages. My teachers, on the other hand, and other school administrators whom I approached for their words of wisdom wrote more meaningful lines.

Mrs. Rose, for example, my grade 5 General Studies teacher, wrote: "Dear Pearl/ Always question, always keep an open mind./Never accept something merely because someone has said it./ Be convinced of the validity of the thoughts before you accept them."

Or my grade 6 General Studies teacher, Judy Smithen, wrote: "Dear Pearl/ Good, better, best./Never let it rest/Until the good is better/And the better is best."

A few years later, my grade 8 English teacher, wrote: "To thine own self be true, and it must follow as the night the day; thou canst not then be false to any man."

As you can see, the teachers were always teaching, even in their messages to me.

I get a real kick out of those teachers, specifically those who taught me literature/creative writing, who, through their messages in my autograph book, declared that I had writing talent and they hoped I'd pursue it. I don't think writing a blog is what they really had in mind for me when they said I should pursue my writing!

It is interesting to look back though some of the messages and wonder about the people who wrote them; several are no longer with us, having died untimely deaths; some have married and divorced or remained single since they scrawled their names in my autograph book; some have gone on to powerful positions in the workplace or raised families. And others...well, my path has never crossed with theirs again since we parted ways in day school or high school.

Yes, I have three small autograph books that carried me from grade 5 through grade 13. As well, I have a beautiful scrapbook that doubled as sort of an autograph book when I was in high school. I shared it with those friends who were talented in the arts: they drew pictures for me amidst the pages, or wrote poetry, or song lyrics. Just as some of these people whom I no longer see or speak to must wonder if Pearl continued with her interest in writing, so I, too, wonder if they pursued the arts, in which they showed immense talent.

I think when I got my first autograph book, I was trying to emulate my mother. My mother had been given a beautiful embroidered blank-paged journal as a bat-mitzvah gift in 1943...and its pages, used as an autograph book/memory book, carried her through teenhood and young adulthood. This book is a work of art, a real collectible; it is rare to see an autograph book like that today.

The fountain pen curlicued script, the b & w or sepia-toned photos, the beautifully drawn cartoons and sketches, the embossed and stylish stickers, and the messages from the pens and pencils of friends and family capture a time period, a lifestyle and a youthfulness which helped define my mother and those around her.

I do know of another book her book reminds me of: Anne Frank's autograph book, which I saw in a special exhibition this past spring in Toronto. Of course, Anne and her sister Margot, were born just a few years earlier than my mother and her sister. But the parallels ran great: the books look the same, the family photographs look the same, some of the experiences are the same. The main differences are that my mother came from an Orthodox Jewish family living in Switzerland; Anne came from an assimilated family who'd moved from Germany to Holland. My mother and her family lived in a neutral country and survived the war. Anne Frank and her sister and mother did not survive.

The pages of my mother's autograph book depict a young girl's life as she comes of age and matures into a young adult amidst war and liberation, amidst the birth of the Jewish homeland, amidst higher education and a move into the work force.

Even if I can't understand everything I'm reading in the book, I could sit and look at it for hours at a time. Why? Because the language of love and friendship comes through in the look of the book, set on every one of its pages -- a universal language, it does not need any kind of translation.

I will share with you this poem that I'd copied onto the inside cover of one my autograph books. It captured for me what that autograph book was all about.

"Growing up means...
more than going from childhood to adulthood.

It is understanding life...
and knowing...YOURSELF
and trying to understand
...OTHERS..."

And I will leave you with this applicable quote that I'd copied into the cover of another of one of my autograph books:

"Like a kite
Cut from the string
Lightly the soul of my youth
Has taken flight."
--Takuboku

6 comments:

JC said...

What a neat post! I never collected autographs, but now wish that I had. What a treasure to have your mothers! Good on you.

Air Time said...

I think the most interesting parts would be the friends autographs, rather than theb teachers. Kids wisdom and perspective is so fascinating.

PsychoToddler said...

I recently found my 8th grade autograph book in a dresser at my folks' house. It was filled with messages like:

'Sorry about you and Linda. I'm sure in time you'll get over it.'

Huh?

I must have gotten over it since I don't remember anything about it.

torontopearl said...

PT, and what did Linda's autograph say? "Don't bother crying over Mark. It's not worth it. Find someone new."

Air Time, some of the kids' messages are nice, but for the most part they're vapid and silly.
As we got older, the messages got a bit more sensible: "Nice knowing you. Have a nice life!"

My mother's autograph book, on the other hand, is something you WANT to look at, something you WANT to read, something that deserves many compliments. But of course, that book stems from a world gone by, a different mentality, different values...and the pages reflect that.

Rochelle said...

A few months ago I glanced through my autograph book from junior high. What memories! I wish I had an autograph book from my mother, of blessed memory....or a tape with her voice....

On another note: Thanks, Pearl, for checking out the proposed book jackets on my blog, and for your vote!

torontopearl said...

Rochelle,
When my mother signed my first autograph book 32 years ago, she said she first wanted to think about what she'd say, and when she finally did, it was this saying: "Life is a mirror--if you frown at it, it frowns back; if you smile, it returns the greeting."
It's been good advice to carry with me all these years.
And re. your mention "On another note," I'm more accustomed to seeing in books "Author Note." I'm sort of surprised that you get to cast a vote on your own bookcovers; I don't think our company's authors have much say in that area, even the bestselling ones.