A Trea­sure Re­claimed

Cher­ish­ing these small but pre­cious books that chron­i­cle the sen­ti­ments of youth

Our Canada - - Features | Departments - By Jo-anne Sheanh, Sechelt, B. C.

Dis­cov­er­ing a trea­sure trove of mem­o­ries from the early 1900s at the bot­tom of a dusty old box of books.

Be­ing a book lover, the first things I look for at flea mar­kets are books— new, old, shiny or shop­worn. What mat­ters to me is the con­tent. At a re­cent sale, I spied a small box un­der a ta­ble with some dusty old books in it that had ob­vi­ously been ig­nored by other buy­ers. In­quir­ing about it, the ven­dor said, “Take it as is and it’s yours.”

Re­turn­ing home and dy­ing of cu­rios­ity, I im­me­di­ately delved into the ragged box. On top were some old, out­dated ref­er­ence books, a cal­cu­lus book, an old, worn Bible and sev­eral nov­els writ­ten by un­known au­thors. Some tat­tered news­pa­pers were folded in two, and be­neath them—to my amaze­ment—i dis­cov­ered a well- worn black leather book with the word Au­to­graphs writ­ten in faded gold let­ters across the cover.

From what I’ve read, au­to­graph books orig­i­nated back in the mid- 16th cen­tury among Euro­pean univer­sity stu­dents who wished to pre­serve mem­o­ries of their class­mates and teach­ers upon grad­u­a­tion. These took the form of sketches, po­etry and verse, and although they were chiefly con­fined to Dutch and Ger­manic cul­tures, by the late 18th cen­tury they were pop­u­lar in Amer­ica and flour­ished un­til school year­books re­placed them.

Care­fully turn­ing the frag­ile pages of this book, I re­al­ized it was some­one’s trea­sure of mem­o­ries. Who would trash some­thing like this? I won­dered. The dates range from 1915 to

1926 and ap­pear to have been writ­ten by friends who at­tended Pro­vin­cial Nor­mal School ( for teacher train­ing) in Van­cou­ver from 1925-26—90 years ago!

One by one, I gen­tly turned the faded gold-rimmed pages and be­gan to read the beau­ti­ful sen­ti­ments, which were ac­com­pa­nied by some ex­tra­or­di­nary coloured sketches.

The first page shows a del­i­cate black-and-white sketch of a dog­wood flower, fol­lowed on the next page by a poem writ­ten in De­cem­ber 1915 and signed “Yours as ever, Dad.”

The fol­low­ing pages, 43 in all, with most writ­ten on both sides, re­flect the af­fec­tion with which this lady was held by her class­mates. On one page, there is a King Ge­orge V 2- cent stamp, which reads, “By gum—it sticks!” signed “Howard Brown.” There is also a painted pic­ture of or­ange pop­pies dec­o­rat­ing another page, a sail­boat and light­house on still another, a whole page de­voted to an owl in full dress sit­ting in a tree, and many more, all with lov­ing sen­ti­ments.

These are truly lit­tle works of art and should be pre­served. The last en­try in the book is from the re­cip­i­ent her­self and reads: “This ends the book of af­fec­tion, the al­bum of beauty and truth, this ends the sweet col­lec­tion of gems that were gath­ered in youth.” It’s signed “May Corn­wall, June 11th, 1926.”

Af­ter read­ing this ex­quis­ite lit­tle book, I re­mem­bered that I too, have an au­to­graph book some­where in the re­cesses of a trunk that I had largely for­got­ten ex­isted. Upon re­triev­ing it, I saw that it was dated 1942 to 1945, my ele­men­tary school years at Sir Richard Mcbride, al­most 75 years ago!

Although it doesn’t con­tain any works of art, it has many of the same sen­ti­ments, po­ems and say­ings as May’s does. My favourite teacher wrote: “Choose not thy friends from out­ward show, feath­ers float but pearls lie low.”

The same verse oc­curs in May’s book as well, 20 years ear­lier.

Read­ing over the names of these friends brought back old mem­o­ries of days gone by when we were all young and ea­ger to face the fu­ture with our dreams and as­pi­ra­tions. I can’t help but won­der where they’ve all gone and whether their dreams came true.

Our au­to­graph books are truly a record of our past as surely as a di­ary or jour­nal and should be trea­sured as such. These are words and sen­ti­ments that were writ­ten in our youth and should be for­ever re­mem­bered. It is sad that May’s book was des­tined to end up in a dusty old box, but I shall trea­sure it for her. n

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