Reading My Parents’ Eighth Grade Autograph Books

4 Jan

It used to be when you graduated eighth grade, you had your friends and teachers sign your autograph book.  The idea was that you would keep this book forever to carry the memories of these friends, who you thought would always be your friends, with you wherever you went.

I remember my autograph book.  Most people wrote silly poems.  Some wrote true hearted messages.  The teachers would mainly sign their names.  And of course, our parents, siblings and grandparents would sign our books as well.

So imagine our wonder, when we cleaned out our parent’s apartment, to find both of our parents eighth-grade autograph books!  I recently spent an hour going through these books from the 1940s and thinking about the people who signed them.  Most have passed away.  Some I did not know.  But others bring a face and a memory and love to my mind.

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Dad’s autograph book.

My Dad’s book is green and torn.  It looks like it has been battered. My Dad graduated eighth grade in June 1943.  He was 14 years old, would turn 15 in a few months.  He attended Joseph Wade Junior High School in the Bronx.  I know that his next stop was DeWitt Clinton High School.

The messages that mean the most to me are from his Mom: “Hope you climb the ladder of success, Mother.”  I have seen her handwriting many times.  I wonder why she did not sign it with love.   From his Dad: “Good Luck and Happiness, From Father Harry.”

The most exciting note for me was from his grandmother, I have no knowledge of her handwriting.  She was born in Russia. The note itself was written by someone else: “To my grandson.  Congratulations on your graduation from Junior High. Best luck in your High Schooling.”  But the signature is my Great Grandma’s:  Ray Goldman!

There are notes from his brother and sister, a first cousin and his Aunt Minnie.    His brother’s note is a typical brother note: “Well, you finally graduated – Congratulations.”  His sister’s note was a silly poem, but then she was just 11 or 12 years old. “I never thought you would make it, “wrote his cousin David,” “but I am very glad I have to eat my words.”

The final note that has meaning to me, is a silly poem from Willard.  Willard, Willie, was Dad’s best friend.  They were bar mitzvah a few weeks apart and studied for their bar mitzvahs together.  They had many stories of how they misbehaved for the Rabbi or anywhere else. Willie and his wife were part of my parent’s lives, and so our lives, forever.  There was not a family event or special occasion without them with us.  My Dad’s 60th birthday party was at Willie’s house.  My ketubah, Jewish marriage license was signed by Willie as one of two witnesses.  This is a friend who stayed a friend forever.

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Mom’s autograph book.

My Mom’s book is different in style and condition than the book my Dad used.  Mom’s book is still in its box.  Its’ blue leather cover is immaculate, sort of like my Mom.  Even though she was six months younger than Dad, she graduated earlier.   Mom graduated from No. 4 school in West New York, New Jersey, in January 1943.  The school building she attended no longer exists as it was replaced with a new school.   She went on to attend Memorial High School in West New York.

The interesting part about Mom is that she actually taught in No. 4 school for many years before being transferred to No 2 school in West New York.  Mom taught in the West New York elementary schools for 30 years, from 1964 until 1994.

Mom’s book is different in another way.  My grandparents came from Europe.  She had only her Mom and Dad, and my grandfather never really wrote in English.  Her grandparents and many aunts and uncles were still in Europe, many of them did not survive the Shoah.  One of her grandfathers and one aunt had made it to the USA in 1936 through the efforts of my grandparents, but I believe by 1943 my great grandfather had already passed away.

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My grandmother wrote in the book:  Dear Frances, Luck and Success. Your Loving Mother.”  That was the only family member who wrote it in.  Her brother started to write something, but did not finish it.

But there are several names in the book that I know well.  The first is Doris Chesis. She wrote: “Work for the Character and after a while the Character will work for you.”    She and her family lived in the same building as my mother. They rented an apartment from my grandparents.  Her brother, Murray, also wrote in the book. He graduated with my Mom, and they actually dated in high school.

Although I never met Murray, I have seen photos of him.  As for Doris, I remember her from throughout my childhood.  Her oldest daughter and my brother were the same age.  Her son and I went through high school together. And her youngest daughter and my sister were about the same age.  I am still friends with Doris’ children on Facebook.  Shocking how long that friendship has lasted.

The final name is as important for my Mom as Willard was for my Dad.  Wini Anoff and my Mom were friends from kindergarten (see blogs below).  I do not know life without Wini!  Her daughter and I have been best friends forever.  And I mean that as we were born two months apart and do not know life without each other.  Our grandparents were friends. We spent every summer together in the Catskills.

So Wini, this is what you wrote in my Mom’s autograph book:  In the four corners of the page : For Get Me Not.  “Dear Frances,  Needles and Pins, Needles and Pins, When you get married your troubles begin. Your sister grad-u-8, Wini Anoff.”

I so wish she had written something more personal.  But Mom and Wini were both just 13.  They would be turning 14 in a few months.  Since Wini is still alive, I should ask her what she would write now, knowing all that has happened in the 77 years since she wrote this note.

For me, seeing someone’s handwriting brings them back to life.  The autograph books perhaps did not contain many signatures and notes from people who continued to be a part of my parents’ lives.  However, I get joy seeing names and signatures of the people I did know.

 

https://zicharonot.com/2017/08/11/mr-anoff-and-the-sardine-sandwich/

6 Responses to “Reading My Parents’ Eighth Grade Autograph Books”

  1. Amy January 5, 2020 at 7:39 am #

    My mother had an autograph book also—I am not sure it was 8th grade, but it could have been. The only family member who signed was my uncle—my mother’s brother-in-law, and off the top of my head I don’t recall what he wrote. The rest were all those silly roses are red type poems!

    By the way, did I tell you that my husband also went to DeWitt Clinton??

    • zicharon January 5, 2020 at 7:44 am #

      Yes I think you did tell me about your husband. My cousin went as well. And I think we figured out they were there the same time. ❤️ most of the entries were just poems. But having these few special ones were happy surprises!

      • Amy January 5, 2020 at 7:45 am #

        I figured we had discussed it. I have to go back to my mom’s autograph book now and see what else I might find!

      • zicharon January 5, 2020 at 7:47 am #

        We just never know! I have the list of who attended by parents’ wedding. And I have seen some people get names of ‘lost’ relatives there. So I plan to go over it this year.

  2. Val February 7, 2020 at 5:11 pm #

    How lovely to have these! My parents were much older than yours so they didn’t have these but I think I had something like it myself (in the 1950s) which would have been unusual for a child in Britain, I think. I have a vague recollection of my schoolfriends writing in it – and we would all have been very young.

    • zicharon February 7, 2020 at 5:28 pm #

      It was a surprise when we found them. But I also had an autograph book when I graduated 8th grade in the late 1960s.

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