At our age - Smiles from the pages of our past

The pages, often in a variety of pale tints - yellow, blue, green, pink - and about 4 inches by 6 inches in size, are from what people our age used to call autograph books. Remember? These books now evoke such inspiring, silly and fond memories that sometimes I actually feel sorry for today's children, who have merely e-mail and digital cameras with which to capture the fun of school days, young romance and the handed-down precepts of poets, philosophers and sometimes even parents.

We don't know exactly when it became customary for American schoolchildren to have such autograph books - in which they recorded important advice like, "When you get married and have some twins, don't come to my house for safety pins" - but we do know that the activity was in full flower by the 1880s and persisted until after World War II.

The fancier books were covered in faux leather (the "leatherette" of our past) and usually came from a dime store for prices that ranged up to a dollar. They were popular gifts for girls' birthday parties or grammar school commencements, and, while it was the girls who usually owned the books, the boys didn't mind filling the pages with the "poems" and familiar inanities which have survived (thanks to the innocent glee of previous generations ) into our own millennium.

I recently came across a book from the late 1880s. It was owned by an Illinois lass named Carrie and filled with attempted copperplate handwriting (thank heaven for the demise of the steel pen point!) and such sentiments as these:

Ever, Carrie, be the same. Changing nothing but your name.

If you meet a nice young man, try and catch him if you can.

* * *

Be honest and truthful in all your actions.

* * *

Not like the rosebuds may our friendship wither, But like the evergreen last forever.

* * *

To be a good woman is better than to be a fine lady. (This sentiment was penned by Ralph.)

* * *

Last in your album, first in your thoughts, Last to be remembered and first to be forgot. (A thought that came from "ever your true friend" Ethelyn).

The Victorians, obviously, were more serious and frankly sentimental than those who followed, but certainly no more inventive of kid-variety doggerel than the many friends of a charmer named Viola, who filled several autograph books during her school years. The popular "Vi" (now Myers) was a teenager during the late '30s, and her schools included Annie Wright Seminary and Toutle Lake High School. She now brings her own brand of sunshine to Seattle's Pioneer Square Antiques several days a week.

There's not space enough to include the many examples of autographs popular with adolescents of Vi's era, but here's a representative sample:

* * *

First I wish you a baby boy. When his hair begins to curl, Then I wish you a baby girl. When her hair is straight as pins, Then I wish you a pair of twins.

* * *

Viola had a little lamp. She had it trained, no doubt. For every time her sweetheart came, The little lamp went out.

* * *

This one, in rebus style, featured a simple drawing of a car. I (auto) cry, I (auto) laugh, I (auto) write in your (auto) graph.

* * *

As you slide down the banister of life, remember me as a splinter in your career.

In Vi's book, and others from throughout the '40s, there are the ubiquitous "yours 'til" gags, to wit (and we use the word "wit" advisedly ): Yours 'til I go to Austria, get Hungary and fry Turkey in Greece. Yours 'til ... lipsticks ... 'til the ocean wears rubber pants to keep its bottom dry ... 'til the mountains peak to see the salad dressing.

There's more, and none of it is X-rated. So, for a real blast from the past that will have you marveling at its innocent merriment, search among your souvenirs and try to find your old autograph book.

Mary Webber can be reached c/o

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