On Memories of an Autograph Book


In which The Gay Recluse talks to his mother about life before the internet.

Our mother recently told us about when she was a teenager and used to go to camp during the summer.

Usually her family could only afford to send her for one week, which cost $7.50. Then one summer — in 1946, when she was 14 — they sent her for two weeks. She loved it!

Back then, instead of Facebook they made these things called “autograph books.” The idea was to get all of your friends to sign and leave little poems.

Except our mother’s frenemy Claire Sheehan, who just left her address. “That was original!” said our mother as we leafed through the old pages. More than fifty years later, she still kind of hates Claire Sheehan! (Not that we blame her.)

The book was bound in two pieces of wood — each about the size of a postcard — held together with a thin leather strap. There was a drawing of the camp on the cover that my mother had done. You could tell that it was very scenic and remote — it was in New Hampshire, not far from Boston — i.e., it’s long since been torn down and replaced by luxury condominiums.

There was another poem by my mother’s best friend Mary Cropper.

It said: “Roses are red…

“Violets are blue…

“Sugar is sweet…

“My father bought a horse.”

3 Responses to “On Memories of an Autograph Book”

  1. 1 TJW

    My favorite autograph poem was (is): If all the boys lived across the sea, what a good swimmer _____ would be.

  2. A triple winner: Trees, reminiscing of times gone by, before one was born, and poetry.


  3. 3 Tim

    Poetry can be very reclusive and (some might say) gay. Just kidding.

    But it sounds like you mother’s camp poetry made for a very communal and enriching read. The internet has some of these same qualities, but the experience is often muted by margin advertisements, password protections and the limitations of non-portable, battery-powered machinery.

    I’m sure when your mother opens up her autograph book her memory is smothered with the smells of pine cones, fresh lake-scented breezes and popping camp fires. When I open up my lap top all I smell is a plastic smell which (ironically) takes me back to my childhood.

    When I was a boy one of my favorite things to do after my parents bought me a new action figure was to rip open the packaging and inhale the plastic smell of a brand new Luke Skywalker or Chewbaca. Each toy smelled similar but they each had a distinct aroma. As I matured, the spectrum of this toy smell grew to include the interior of new cars, the faux upholstry of furniture and the panels of new appliances. Whenever I climb into a newly cleaned rental car the first thing I do is smell the steering wheel.

    I love the leathery smell of mint condition objects so much that I make an extra effort to keep my things nice so they can retain their new smell longer. There is something comforting in objects that are new, high tech or which otherwise make life easier. But your mother’s camp experiences are organic in a way so as to trump any amenity. The crisp air, the scuttering of wind-swept pine needles, the moaning wind and creaking sounds of a cabin in the pitch dark–these cannot be recreated by pixels or the latest baseball-sized Apple speakers.

    Nature is mighty and never-changing. Human inventions must adapt or they become relegated to the dustbin of history.

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