80-year-old memory books: As a new year dawns, thoughts return to old times, old friends
As our old year ends, the familiar notes of “Auld Lang Syne” are heard, calling us to remember old friends and old times – and maybe prompting us to click on a keyboard or a smartphone to bring up photos and stories aplenty.
But 80 years ago, before technology intervened, one of the ways citizens of those days remembered friends and times shared was to read the inscriptions they had written in each other’s memory books, especially the autograph books from their school days.
Larry Warrick recently shared with the Times two of his Aunt Glenda Warrick Hays’ autograph books from 1937 and 1938, her last two years before graduating from what was then Thornfield High School.
Having completed the teacher training courses at Thornfield, Glenda, who grew up in Noble, went on to teach in area one-room schools. Later she moved to Ava and worked as a secretary in the Ava schools – and then in the Agricultural Conservation and Stabilization Service office. She was 93 when she died in 2013.
Almost all of the inscriptions in Glenda’s 1938 book are simple rhymes, as was the tradition. The instructions at the front of the book say:
“Write your thoughts in prose or rhyme
In memory of this happy time.
I’ll cherish them my whole life through
Together with your friendship true.”
On one of the pages, an inscription signed by Mabel and Andrew Wade seems to explain how the low-tech book differs from modern-day high-tech social medial. It says:
“When you are in some far and distant land,
You can see this writing of our hand,
Though our face you cannot see,
Just look at this and think of we.”
The 1938 book is tattered, and its cover has come loose, perhaps showing that Glenda did, indeed, frequently review and cherish the words her friends had written on its linen-paper pages. Its ragged state hints that she turned these pages many times.
Glenda was 18 when the 1938 book was autographed. She would remain single until 1953, when she married Dennie Hays at age 32. Under the signatures of several of the writers, she wrote “married” and sometimes added another name, perhaps of the person who became the friend’s spouse.
As her own marriage was delayed, Glenda may have been living out an idea expressed by Mabrey King, who wrote this in Glenda’s book:
“Ducks on the mill pond,
Geese on the ocean.
You won’t get married
Until someone takes a notion.”
It may have been that Glenda simply “didn’t take a notion” to marry for all those years.
In the front of the book, two teachers shared advice. On March 30, 1938, one of the teachers, J. A. Peck, wrote:
“Glenda, you can make a good and useful woman if you will try to improve yourself in the future as you have in the past. Be true to those who love and trust you. Above all, remember your Creator.”
Mary Peck, probably his wife and fellow teacher, expanded on that thought:
“Live for those who love you
For those whose hearts are true,
For the Heaven that shines above you
And the good that you may do.”
Another teacher, Robert C. Waldron, wrote:
“As each problem in life comes up, may there always be a long side and a short side to the question.”
Hughie Wallace wrote:
“Your future lies before you
Like drifts of pure white snow.
Be careful how you tread it
For every step will show.”
And Vilora Boyle offered this gem:
Your own canoe.”
Shared times and promises of enduring friendship
Some of Glenda’s friends reminded her of the times they had shared. Girls urged her to “remember the sewing circle,” and a few others mentioned “that Saturday night at Association” (probably referring to a Baptist Association church gathering). In the 1937 book, one wrote about “the night at ‘Buzzard Roost’ sitting on those easy seats,” and another friend, Clella Sallee, reminded Glenda “of the time we went to the show at camp in OVERALLS.”
Maxine Frost surely exaggerated when she wrote, “Remember our schooldays together. How mean we were? My! My! Awful! Goodness gracious sakes alive. Oh my lands.”
When Lois Ripple wrote in Glenda’s book, she noted that it was “the day I got stung by a yellow jacket.”
Many friends declared themselves a link “in the golden chain of friendship,” and others promised eternal friendship, penning such promises as:
“Yours until the ocean [or the Mississippi River] wears rubber pants to keep its bottom dry.”
“Yours until Niagara falls.”
“Yours till hairpins get seasick riding on permanent waves.”
“Yours till frogs have hair.”
“Yours till combs have false teeth.”
“Yours till the moon shines whiskey.”
“Yours till roosters lay eggs.”
Bertie Blair wrote:
“Yours till the mountain peaks and sees the salad dressing.”
Faye Roberts wrote:
“When roses bloom in wintertime
And snow storms rage in June,
When five times three is twenty-four
And six times two is ten,
When gladness turns to sorrow
Maybe I’ll forget you then.”
Some of the writings are funny. Lena Gaulding (“Arlie Wallace” has been added under her name)penned this:
And bear in mind
An old cow’s tail
Hangs down behind.”
Glenn Hobbs wrote:
“When you get old and cannot see
Put on your specs and look for me.”
In Glenda’s 1937 autograph book, Basel Brown wrote: “Kiss me quick and let me go. Here comes Dad with a grubbing hoe.”
And Rhufus Allen wrote, addressing his advice to “Bandershanks” (apparently a nickname for Glenda):
“When you get too old to trot
Blow your nose and sling your snot.”
A friend named Billy had this wish for Glenda: “May you sit on a tack of success and rise rapidly.”
Hint of hanky-panky?
Some of the writings hint at hanky-panky. A pal named Mary wrote:
“Hickory is the best of wood.
Kiss the boys, it does them good.
Smack your lips and bat your eyes,
It gives your face good exercise.”
Henry Simmons’ “autograph” probably came close to being scandalous in 1938. He wrote:
“I love you little, I love you mighty,
I want your pajamas right next to my nighty.
Now, don’t get excited and don’t lose your head.
I mean on the clothesline and not in bed.”
Other inscriptions are philosophical. One such poem was written by “Hervil G.,” assumed to be Hervil Gaulding, who later operated a store in Thornfield. Beside his name is written “Virginia Heriford,” who married Hervil Gaulding in 1941. Hervil wrote:
“Remember well and bear in mind
A real true friend is hard to find.
But when one’s found, tried and true,
Exchange not the old one for the new.”
Another philosophical note was penned by Iva Degase. (Cecil Turner’s name had been added under hers; they married in 1940.) Iva said:
“Life is a volume from youth to old age,
Each year is a chapter, each day is a page.
May none be more charming, more womanly true,
Than that pure life being sketched now by you.”
And another friend, Maude, wrote this:
“I am not everything,
But I am something.
I cannot do everything
But I can do something.
What I can do, I ought to do.
And with the help of God, I will.”
Like Glenda and her husband, Dennie, many of the friends who wrote in her book, born in the 1920s, are no longer living. But still the memory of their friendships linger. As one friend wrote:
“When far away and friends are few,
Remember me and I will you.
But if the grave should be my bed,
Remember me when I am dead.”