I am a sucker for an inscription. I like to see who gave a book to whom, and why. I like to know who dog-eared a book’s pages or underlined certain passages; who left a shopping list or pressed a flower between its chapters. I have a couple of really good books with inscriptions tucked away in my collection that I can’t find right now because we’re moving and much is packed away. But! Something else surfaced recently which is a related pleasure: a tiny little book of autographs belonging to a schoolgirl named Dorothy Deddins.
The book is about 3″ x 4″ with an embossed cover and gilded paper edges. It was given to Dorothy in 1926 by Sherrill for a Christmas gift. There’s a note that says U.A. 29, which I’m assuming is her school initials and graduation year.
The notes are almost all short, affectionate verses.
As sure as the grass grows round this stump,
You are my sweetest sugar lump.
Yours always, Wilma.
Here’s to the girl that when she kisses,
Runs and tells her Mother.
But here’s to the one that when she kisses,
Smothers it with another.
–Wally Stiflig ’29
The handwriting is impeccable, even when the grammar is not.
Feb. 3, 1927
If I was a head of lettuce
I’d divide myself into
Give a leaf to all my friends
Give my heart to you.
–M. R. Braitling
Mar 3, 1927
When sleep has closed your loving eyes
And sweet your slumbers be
Dream of the one who loved you best
And you will dream of me.
Mary Rose Risling
They’re not all sunshine and light, however. Take this one from Sister Mary Dolores…it feels slightly ominous.
Each act you do,
Each word you say,
Think —-! How will it sound
on Judgment Day?
Sr. M. Dolores
Feb. 12, 1927
This last selection is the funniest and has the clunkiest rhyme, but it’s still charming.
March 13, 1927
Dar Pal o’ my heart:
Love is a funny thing,
Its just like a lizard.
It wound’s itself
around your heart
And finally crawls
into your gizzard.
-Elsie or John L.Z.
It is striking how sweet and thoughtful these inscriptions were. When I was in high school, the only yearbook poetry was of the “2 good 2 be 4gotten” variety, or maybe something rock and roll-ish that rhymed with “class of ’87”. Where did the old verses come from? How many did each writer have ready, in case someone used the one they were planning to use? Did girls back then compare verses and try to read between the lines to see if this one secretly meant true love or if that one was meant to be snide like they do today?
When I thumb through these autographs, I can’t help but wonder what the writers looked like. How did their lives turn out? The Depression was around the corner. Were their lives happy? Did Dorothy ever see them again after graduation?
I also love old yearbooks, even from schools I don’t know. It’s fun to flip back and forth and match inscriptions to photos. I haven’t seen my high school senior year yearbook in decades. I know it is a little damaged because one of my brothers peed on it while sleepwalking (he was in preschool at the time!), but I unstuck many of the pages at some point and it’s still browsable. I can view old yearbooks at the library. But I’d get a kick out of the signatures. High school graduation is an unsettling time for most kids, as friends scatter off to new adventures. I suffered from a particular kind of melancholy because my family moved mid-year and I was staying with a friend most of second semester. I was set to leave for summer camp a week after school got out and then I’d go to a college I’d never seen, 12 hours away on the east coast. Everything felt so final. Who would I miss? Who would miss me?
I don’t remember who I asked to sign my yearbook–not many people. I’d wager that most of the signatures were blithe or sarcastic. I confess to hoping for a surprise, should I ever find my senior yearbook. Maybe someone left me a little bit of sunshine that I didn’t recognize at the time. Apparently I left a nice note in a friend’s yearbook that I didn’t remember writing until I saw it a couple years ago. It was sweet and insightful and, most surprisingly–pretty open-hearted, considering how discombobulated and insecure I felt at the time. Which brings me back to dear Dot. Which inscription was her favorite? How often did she revisit her little book? I think she had kids because one scrawled on many of the pages in pencil. Did they read it as adults and wonder at their mom’s inner life like I do?
[Sighs dreamily…] Oh, to have that “something crawled into your gizzard” feeling again.
The one is you.
Love is a funny thing.
To be sweetly stupid.
To Dorothy from Sherrill, Christmas 1926
…smothers it with another.