Eddy Finegood, where are you now?
The penciled scrawl is as faded as my memory of your freckled face, but this much I remember: No epic poem in a grad-school seminar ever received a closer reading than the verse you so casually scribbled in my 7th-grade autograph book. The ocean is wide ;
The sea is level .
Come to my arms
You little devil !
Betty Sisk, Shirley Mintz, how did your lives turn out? Your names sit on the line marked, "favorite friends," at the front of the postcard-sized album with CLASS AUTOGRAPHS gold-stamped on the embossed white cover. The year is 1943 and How Green Was My Valley is my favorite book, "Pistil [sic] Packin' Mama," my favorite song.
June in Michigan. Spring sunshine filters through tall, newly washed schoolroom windows and settles like shawls about our shoulders. One more week 'til summer vacation. Deftly, we exchange autograph books under wooden desks grown too small to contain our longing for escape. "Favorite teacher," Miss Bartlett, raps the blackboard with a bit of chalk. I open a pastel pink page of Betty Karazan's book and, tremulous with adolescent sentiment, write: When twilight pulls the curtain back and pins it with a star , don't forget you have a friend no matter where you are .
Perhaps autograph books have gone the way of nickel candy bars and movie-star photos on the lids of Dixie Cups. My own children, now grown, remember signing class photographs, and in the high school where I teach, yearbooks scribbled with cryptic allusions to shared past exploits are the fashion. Certainly, no sophisticated teen-ager of today would bid for imortality with Judy Whipple's entry in my book. You may have a friend , you may have a lover , but don't forget , your best friend is your mother .
I see nothing wrong with, "Hey, foxy lady," and I don't fool myself with too much nostalgia for "the good old days," but I hope folk-art aficionados are considering a corner for autograph album verse when they collect jump-rope rhymes and children's steet chants. Admire the skin-and-bones spareness of this terse summary of Man's span on earth: Life is like a deck of cards . When you're in love, it's hearts . When you'r engaged, it's diamonds . When you're dead, it's spades .
Autograph albums were part of the promotion and graduation ritual when I was growing up. In May, after the stock girl at Kresge's put away the tag ends of Easter and Mother's Day cards, she piled the little books in the stationery department. With the same inner calendar that told us the appropriate day to begin tossing the first baseball or jackstone, we all knew when to tuck the new album in our book bags. Overnight, like dandelions, they popped up everywhere.
In keeping with the tone of many commencement addresses, one type of album entry deals with the eternal problem of how does a good man (or woman) live. Nancy Partridge made certain we didn't skip off to summer camp totally carefree. Your future lies before you like a blanket of snow . Be careful how you tread it , as every mark will show .
Autograph books provided a means of settling accounts before school let out. They were a way to vent spleen less public or risky than sticking pigtails in ink wells. Roses are red . Stems are green . You've got a shape like a submarine .
We lived back in the innocent days before Brooke Shields had even been invented. It's hard to believe these lines were capable of turning a teenage earlobe pink: You were standing on the back porch when your mother heard the smack . She said you were a naughty girl and made you give it back .
Most popular of all were the rhymes that began, "When you . . . " When you get old and cannot see , put on your specs and think of me Or: When you get married and live by a lake , sned me a piece of your wedding cake . Or: When you get married and live by the river , sned me a piece of you old man's liver.
For those fresh out of ideas, there were the old standbys: Can't think Brain dumb Inspiration Won't come . No ink Bad pen Well, good luck Amen ! And: I thought, I thought, I thought in vain . I thought at last, I'd sign my name .