The Autograph Book

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Memoir  |  House: Booksie Classic
A woman experiences a flood of memories when she finds her grade school autograph book.

Submitted: January 01, 2013

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Submitted: January 01, 2013



Dreary, wet, and cold; a perfect day to clean a closet, especially one that hasn’t been looked into for years.

Alone and dressed in my old jeans and a sweatshirt, I was determined to start getting rid of some of my stuff. I balanced a chair in the closet and reached high up on the top shelf--a good place to start.

I grabbed hold of an old, heavy cardboard box. Holding it in one hand and the side of the chair in my other hand, I barely made it down to the closet floor without falling.

Moving the box to the bed, I remembered taking it from my mother’s house after she died, and I vaguely recalled it having papers of mine she had kept.

Upon opening it, I pulled out a group of drawings and school papers carefully signed in the handwriting of a young child. I figured they would be fun to show to my grandchildren, but that thought lasted for just a short time, as I remembered how my son and his kids barely looked at his old school papers when I brought them to his house.

A realization we all must come to some time in our lives is: Unless they are collectibles worth money, our treasures are important only to us. So I put the papers in the recycle bin.

Then, I returned to the box to see what other treasures I had kept through my grade school years. There was a small, furry stuffed dog, a silver charm bracelet, and a blue zippered booklet.

The booklet intrigued me. It was approximately five inches square, and on the cover were the words “Class of ‘56, O’Keefe, Charlene Packer.”

In my hand was my grammar school autograph book, At O’Keefe School, the last month before graduation was spent making sure that everyone in your class signed your book. My class had 63 members, 13- and 14- year-olds all, so I sat back in the bed preparing for a long reading.

Turning the pages, I discovered that unlike in my high school yearbook, classmates at age 13 or 14 didn’t have much to say. Most of my friends either wrote something like “Best of luck in high school,” “Hope to see you at Hyde Park High,” or a “Roses are red; violets are blue” type of rhyme. There weren’t many original thoughts in the book, so I concentrated on picturing the kids. It had been 56 years since I thought about many of them, so I discovered I had forgotten a good many. Unlike my high school and college, my grammar school never had a reunion, nor did one tend to hold on to friends from such a young age.

Of the ones I remembered, some of the names brought back fond memories, and others made me chuckle as I thought about how differently they had turned out compared to their young personalities. There was Steve, the troublemaker who became a policeman; Stuart the smartest and handsomest boy in class who became a famous lawyer, only to end up in jail; and Ronnie, the class dummy who became a multimillionaire.

The first page of my book was signed by Michael, with the following verse: “Ha-Ha, again I made it to the first page before anyone else.” A lump developed in my throat when I thought about Michael. He loved to be the first to do anything, and he had been the first in our class to die. He was in his sophomore year of high school when he collapsed on the basketball court and was gone. As 14-year-olds we were shocked and surprised, but naïve enough to put it out of our minds and carry on with our lives. The lump developed in my throat because having lost a child of my own, I realized how devastating Michael’s death was to his family.

I kept turning the pages trying to picture or remember the names of the signers until I stopped cold at the page signed by Leah. She wasn’t in my grammar school; she went to a private girls’ school, but we were in the same religious school class for a year.

Leah was a very pretty little girl with long straight black hair and a devilish smile that exposed a dimple on her right side. She was very popular with the boys and girls in our religious school class, but not with the teachers. In the 1950s, girls didn’t talk back or act independent. Girls were sweet obedient creatures. This was not Leah’s nature, and I tended to watch her antics from a distance until the day I arrived at religious school very early and sat down on a swing in the playground.

Shortly thereafter, Leah joined me. It was a beautiful spring day so when Leah suggested we take a walk to the drugstore down the street I decided to join her. We ordered sodas and talked and talked. When I started to go towards school, she convinced me to ditch and stay with her.

When Leah ordered me to not tell my mother, she doomed an obedient little 13-year-old to a lifetime of guilt. As soon as I read what she wrote in my autograph book I knew 13-year-old Leah had given me that order to test and tease me.

Charlene was the girl from Havana

She slipped on a peal of banana

She wanted to swear

But her mother was there

So she whistled the Star Spangled Banner

By Charlene Wexler

© Copyright 2019 CharleneWexler1. All rights reserved.

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