recess radio program

Autograph Books
    by John Cech

This is National Autograph Collecting Week, and as we know, the hunting of celebrity autographs -- on every conceivalbe surface, from baseballs to the backs of hands and tee shirts still on their owners's backs -- has never been more frenzied. Back in the late 1800s, one of the fads among young people was the autograph book, and with it came the art of writing tokens of affection for one's friends in these small, cherished volumes.

The spirit of this craze is kept alive on the inside covers of school yearbooks and in the gossipy "slam book" that pre-adolescent girls circulate among themselves to dish the latest middle school romantic and society news. Boys certainly aren't expected any longer to sign their names with a rhyme, unless they're rapping. But a hundred years ago, a young man had to have a flair for the quatrain, and a good steady hand with a fountain pen. In my then teen-aged grandmother Mary's autograph album from 1894, for example, Charlie Klecatsky wrote in his flowing script:
Dear Mary.

A line of my writing
Oh what shall it be
A token of friendship
From Charlie to thee.

A good number of the rhymes are serious, like Annie Smolik's cautionary admonition:

Beauty may win, but virtue must retain
That happiness which we do wish to gain.

And then there are old chestnuts like Ruth Sindelar's:

Leaves may wither,
Flowers may die,
Friends may foget you
But never will I.

Others teased and joshed, like this from her pal, Annie Suchan:

The door is locked
The key is in the cellar
No one is home
But Mary and her feller

Evidently, something was in the air, because, tucked away in the album, next to a comic post card from the young man who would later become her husband and my grandfather, was this rhyme, from her "loving friend" Agnes Kaspar:

Apples are good
Peaches are better
When you get married
Send me a letter.

Not too many months later, Agnes would have gotten that note.

Copyright 2005 John Cech

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Wednesday, 23-Feb-2005 15:18:02 EST

"Recess!" is a co-production of the University of Florida's Center for Children's Literature and Culture and WUFT-FM, "Classic 89."