Part 2 – Red Autograph Book
If you missed Part 1, I recently purchased a little red autograph book from Curiosities in Dallas. It belonged to an 8th grader named Ramona Holmes who lived in Paris, Texas in 1946. The book is a gem. It has names, addresses and the most charming messages written by Ramona’s classmates and teachers.
I’ve spent some late nights researching the people and places. I was also able to cajole my friend Tore into a day trip to Paris for further research. (Not that he needs any persuasion to go on an adventure. Plus I promised a hamburger from a local restaurant!)
This post focuses on one particular page within the book.
Helen Edwards, teacher at J. G. Wooten School
On the back of many of the autographed pages, Ramona wrote notes about the person who signed her book. That is how I learned about Helen Edwards, one of Ramona’s teachers. We all have our favorite teachers – those individuals who took interest in us, who were patient and kind – who helped mold our tender minds. For Ramona, Ms. Edwards was that sort of teacher.
“J. G. Wooten
My geography teacher and history and hygiene. She was the sweetest teacher I ever had.”
In researching it didn’t take long for me to grow fond of Ms. Edwards too. Here are a few details that I learned:
- She was born in 1884. At the time she wrote in Ramona’s book, she was 62 years old.
- She was very active and well loved in the community she served.
- She did not get married. I conclude she dedicated her life to her pupils.
- She had 3 sisters who were also teachers. (one was a half-sister)
- Her father was Dr. Elias “Eli” P. Edwards. He was Paris’s oldest physician.
I searched Google maps for her home. As you can imagine, street numbers from the past don’t always match up. Homes are torn down and replaced and other times only empty lots remain. But I feel pretty confident I identified her residence. She lived in a beautiful home with her parents and siblings. It is the type of home you’d think a school teacher would live.
Tore and I drove by the home during our trip to Paris.
The final part of our journey to Paris is a little unusual to most people. And I even contemplated if it is considered poor taste. But it’s not unusual for us to visit cemeteries. This time, we had a slight familiarity with the deceased. The tombstone would not be an unfamiliar name.
Step one was finding the Edwards’ family plot in the massive Evergreen Cemetery. Fortunately, I knew the plot number where they were buried. Then it was just a matter of scanning the section to find “Edwards” on a tombstone. There it was!
I walked briskly to the area, picked a wildflower and solemnly opened the autograph book to the page with Helen Edwards’ message to Ramona. I placed the wildflower on the page and prepared to take my photo with the book on the ground.
And at that moment it started sprinkling. The two pages got lightly wet and I didn’t get my perfect shot. I took a quick snapshot instead. I was so disappointed by my carelessness. I left the book open to let the two pages dry. The ink was running, as if brought back to life and ruin after 75 years.
Tore consoled me saying the teacher would have been touched that I cared enough to bring a book back that belonged to her former pupil.
I returned home dejected and avoided the blog and the autograph book for a few weeks.
I try to console myself that the book could have remained unnoticed on a shelf in an antique store. Better to be used, researched and shared with others than not at all… even though it’s a little worse from wear.
May 23, 1946
You have been a splendid pupil, and it gives me very great pleasure to wish you a future of health, wealth, and happiness.