Submitted by Eleanor Stout Courtney, Beaver Resident
For generations girls have cherished and preserved their autograph books. On Christmas Day in 1937, my tenth birthday, one of my gifts was a fake leather bound one, its pastel pages blue, green, yellow and pink. As was tradition in those days, after the gifts were opened, we all went to Grandma’s on Market Street for Christmas dinner. Of course, I took my favorite gift and solicited signatures from parents, grandparents, siblings, aunts and uncles. Many of the classmate entries are in pencil, now faded with age.
My mother, who made the first entry in my autograph book, wrote, “I had a little girl. Born on Christmas Day. Now she is a great big girl. Ten years old they say. It hasn’t been so long from that day to this. She’ll always be my little girl. Ten years more I guess.”
Later, my grandmother, equally talented in composing a poem on short notice, wrote, “I have a sweet granddaughter. We call her Eleanor Stout. She works for me on Saturdays. And chases dirt about. She dances when she’s working. With her eyes as bright as stars. And tells me lots of jokes she knows. That takes the place of going to shows. So I suppose I’ll keep her. Until she is old and gray. But then I suppose she will strike. And ask for higher pay!” My pay for helping Grandma on Saturday mornings was eleven cents, the price to go to the Beaver Theater matinee.
Brother Ray wrote, “When you are old and have twins. Don’t come to me for safety pins.” There were no disposable diapers in those days. This was the first of the typical entries in autograph books.
A favorite in Beaver was “Yours til Beaver Falls.”
Most entries were flattering with an occasional “Roses are red. Violets are blue. If I had your mug I’d go join a zoo.” The boy who wrote that added, “Just kidding.”
At Grandma’s an uncle wrote: “There was a girl named Stout. She’s a pretty good girl and doesn’t pout. She has brown hair and brown eyes. Lately she has been pretty wise. She made a paper that’s good. She would sell it for more if she could. She sells 17 papers a week. The people laughed so hard they were weak.” This made reference to a newspaper I composed every week, taking one copy to Grandma’s Saturday night, charging five cents for my relatives to read my latest issue.
Another uncle wrote, “I know a little girl named Eleanor. She liked school so well she wanted more. She came home one day and by the light of a taper. She had a good idea to make her own newspaper. From the very first the paper was a wow. When she gets it finished she can take a bow.”
Other aunts and uncles wrote, “It tickles me it makes me laugh. To think you want my autograph.” “Don’t it get you angry? Don’t it get your goat? When you’re in the bathtub and forgot the soap.” “I know a little girl. Whose name is Nornie Stout. Bright eyes express her thoughts. Before words tumble out.”
Classmates wrote, “I hope you live till you are old and gray. I like you in every way.” “When you are married and patch his britches. Think of me between the stitches.” “When you are old and live by the sea. Bring your dear self and come and see me.” “When Heaven pulls the curtains back and pins them with a star. Don’t forget you have a friend no matter where you are.” “‘Tisn’t the things you get, ‘Tis the things you give. That makes this world a grand place to live.” “Eleanor is your name. Fort McIntosh is your station. Leave the boys alone until you get your education. “Yours till Europe gets Hungary and fries Turkey in Greece.”
The book also includes greetings from all my teachers at Ft. McIntosh plus a page from the janitor. In the 1980s I went back to Pitt for a degree in library science. A guest speaker of the school was a popular young adult author. Knowing she was going to speak on a book that referred to autograph books, I took my own for her to sign. She was delighted to see my book from the 1930s. Above her signature she wrote, “I see Pittsburgh; I see France.” No need to write anything more. All autograph signers know the next naughty line.