The Autograph Album
The other week on a rainy afternoon I spent some time looking through a carton of my mother’s belongings that I had taken from her apartment after her death in 1994. There wasn’t anything much of monetary value in the carton, but my hands fell on her autograph album from when she graduated public school in 1931. She was I guess about 12 years old. Let me describe the album for you. It’s actually quite nice with the words School-day memories embossed on the tarnished gold finished front cloth covering. There are also embossed drawings of books and a torch. The back cover has a nice art deco like pattern of intertwining circles. Inside there is a photograph of the school that was located in Williamsburg Brooklyn where my mother and father grew up and where my Father’s mother, my grandmother owed a brownstone till the day she died in the late 1950’s. It’s funny to think that this once rundown neighborhood is now the center of the young, the hip and the cool. I have no idea if the school or indeed my grandmother’s brownstone is still there. Inside the album there is some scribbles and wear with some pages torn out, but laid in the back of the album. This vandalism was the work of my sister when she was a child and got her creative juices out by scribbling on anything she could get her hands on including our family photographs. I had of course looked at the album over the years, sometimes with my mother, but haven’t done so in a long time and had no strong memory of the contents. This time I learned some things about my mother that I didn’t either know or recall. To begin with I see that she was class treasurer and had wanted to be a milliner. This is funny because I don’t ever recall seeing my mother wearing a hat, although there are several small photo booth portraits of her with some very nice hats sitting on her head. I also didn’t realize that she was a popular girl with many friends and several boyfriends including one of which would become my father. In the back of the album in pencil my mother wrote a list of her classmates, most of which is faded. I wonder if this is where I get my love of lists and list making. Listed on a page of her favorite things is the book “Bad Girl’ that was written by Vina Delmar, who was also listed as my mother’s favorite author. The book was made into a film in 1931 and was nominated for a best picture Oscar, and won Oscars for the director Frank Borzage and the screenplay. Many years later I would buy as a gift for my mother the photoplay edition of this now forgotten movie. The dustjacket was really nice with a marvelous art deco painting of a well, bad girl. Did my mother think of herself as a bad girl? Later after her death I sold the book. I just didn’t like having it around as it made me sad. The autograph album’s pastel colored pages were full of the usual greetings that classmates, friends and relatives have been writing for generations. Do they still even make autograph albums? Somehow its hard for me to imagine the foul mouthed vulgar teenage latinas squeezed into their too tight jeans, and the homies in their hoodies asking teachers and friends to sign their autograph albums. My own autograph albums from elementary and junior high school are with my papers in special collections at Kent State. Three pages from my mother’s album stand out. One was from a boy named Jack Haber who was no relation to my father’s family. In 1961 30 years after he wrote “ To Rosalind success your friend Jack Haber” I went on a double date with his daughter Barbara who it turned out was a cousin of my close friend Marty. We went to the Kingsway theatre in Brooklyn to see James Cagney in One, Two Three and over the course of the evening I realized that her father was indeed the Jack Haber in my mother’s album. She was a nice girl, but this was my first and only date with her. I had no strong feelings for her, or indeed for any other girl and that was that. The second page that caught my eye and almost brought tears to my eyes was written by me in august 1, 1954. I had just turned 7 that past February and in pencil I printed to my mother “I wish you luck I wish you joy I wish you get a baby boy Love Ira.” I have to assume that my sister who was 13 at the time prompted me in the writing of this little “poem” for what did I at seven years know from someone getting a baby boy. The final page in the album written in pencil and dated Spt 13, 1931, (I wonder if it was a Friday) is from my father and it reads, bad spelling and all. “To Rosalind. It is no honor to gratuade 166 any dope cane gratuade that school Your boy friend Oscar Haber. How telling this is about him. Even at this early age he was a nasty mean spirited ungiving young man with a sadistic sense of humor about him that I would later discover for myself in the years to come.
The picture of the two girls is of my mother on the left and an unknown friend