While cleaning my desk I found Grandma’s autograph book, dating back to 1940, when she was eleven years old. Each entry was filled with the sweetness, innocence, and old-fashioned corniness of the day. Life was peaceful in Boonton, New Jersey at that time, which was such a stark contrast to events in other parts of the world—the world where Grandpa and his family were living.
As I turned each page and read the carefully-worded thoughts of Grandma’s friends and relatives, I could not help but smile. After recording each page, I carefully wrapped it up and sent it to her, hoping that it would cause her to smile also rather than shed a tear for those no longer here.
Each page was dated, so I could see that they were not written in order. On the bottom of most pages was a second date, which was the birthday of the person signing her little red book.
For the next few days I am going to share these pages with you, and when I am able, I will tell you who these people were. You only think of Grandma as how you have known her over the years, but this is a window into her past seventy-six years ago. I will begin with her family.
Read what Grandma wrote on the inside cover and you will get a feel of ten-year-old Grandma. I believe “Sing-Sing College” actually refers to the prison known as “Sing-Sing,” which is in Ossining, New York—close to the town where Jamie and Kelly were born.
My grandmother was quite creative as you will see from her roundabout autograph which says: “You have many a friend and many a lover but the best one of all is your mother.”
Aunt Tess, who married my uncle Larry six years after she signed Grandma’ s book, was the first one granted that honor. I sent a photo of this page to my cousin Maureen so she could show her ninety-five year old mother what she wrote way back then, and Maureen said that Aunt Tess still writes little rhymes when she sends cards—something she apparently learned from Maureen’s grandmother.
Her cousin Gertrude (the lady with the Christmas houses), provided one of the more serious autographs. But Gertrude was a sophisticated woman of nineteen, so she could not write something as whimsical as Grandma’s schoolmates did.
Aunt Marian had written a brief note, but Grandma wanted more. She asked for what she got from her older sister!
Her Aunt Josie was my grandmother’s younger sister—ten years her junior. According to Aunt Marian, this aunt had contracted meningitis at the age of two, which led to some mental disabilities and speech problems. With that in mind, the comment that this thirty-six year old aunt was interesting compared with what her cousin Gertrude wrote.
When I read what her uncle Leonard wrote, I asked Grandma if he had been divorced. Apparently, he had broken up with his wife, Peggy DeLeeuw, and took up with a woman named Lydie. (The comment he wrote was such an interesting one to make to your young niece.)
Grandma was very fond of this aunt and worked with her as a switchboard operator. After they divorced, Uncle Leonard moved to Florida and Aunt Peggy remained behind.
You have heard about Grandma’s famous Uncle Jack Blue. He served as a pall bearer for President McKinley after serving in the Spanish-American War in the navy. He became a dance instructor, and several of his students went on to become famous in the movies, among them were Ruby Keeler, Bing Crosby, and Katherine Hepburn. His middle daughter, Juliet, married a well-known Columbian singer who appeared in movies here in the U.S.
I will close with Uncle Bob and Uncle Don, who wrote in the book when they were not yet six. I am impressed that they were writing in script at this young age. It looks like someone helped them finish the poem the first time, and there is a comment about how their handwriting improved. Was it Aunt Marian or my grandmother?
So there you have it—your first peek at my mother as a fifth-grade student at Mt. Carmel School in 1940.