Tucked away in an envelope, in a box, on a shelf in the basement of Carroll Library is a tiny book embossed with a picture of a rabbit. Smaller than a smart phone, this wonderful little object is an autograph book that once belonged to Ida Ainsworth of Liberty Hill, Texas. It’s dated 1888 (though a few pages seem to be from 1887), and is signed by her friends and family, and by her teacher.
If you’ve never seen one, an autograph book is meant to be a keepsake. They were customarily filled with rhymes and memorable sayings, each signer choosing a page and trying to come up with a poem that no one else had used. Autograph books’ popularity has declined in recent years, but you can still purchase one for graduation or your next trip to a Disney theme park, and there is even a book of autograph rhymes if you haven’t had a chance to memorize anything beyond “Roses are red, violets are blue….”
Though autograph books may still be found, with a few exceptions, the messages in Ida’s book are strikingly different from those a modern student would write. They are often touching and sober, recalling the passage of time, the parting of friends, and the inevitability of death. They reminded me a bit of memento mori, and I thought of all of Ida’s friends who have long since passed.
Yet, even as it brings to mind the dead, this little book also stands against time’s stream, as each page becomes not only a memento mori but also a memento mei—“Remember me!” Dear Ida, Dear Reader, remember my youth, my laughter, our friendship. Remember me as I was in this moment.
Dust to dust…the saying applies to people and to books. Those of us who work in libraries and archives are in the memory business. Though we do not know who Ida was, or anything of her friends and family, we preserve the memento they have left behind, and hold it for the researcher who may someday come to recreate the story of these lives, and others, that make up the story of Texas.
My Friend Ida A. When this you see remember me. Henry T. Jan 2 [?] 88
July 5th 1888 Dear Ida. Speak of me kindly When life drems are ore. Speak of me gently when I am no more Tinae Gillaspy
Dear Ida A line is enough to Ask rememberance Your Schoolmate Emm H. Liberty Hill Nov. 28 1888
Dear Ida, Poor ink Poor pen poor writer Amen. Your Nephew Walter Lasseberger
Dear Ida- Think often and always kindly of your true friend. Francis
Dear Ida Remember a beautiful life ends not in death.
Little Friend: In the golden chain of friendship regard me as a link. Your friend Hollie Cates Liberty Hill Jan 21 1888
Dear Ida. Will you sometimes think Of me with kindness and Love. Liberty Hill, Jan. 19 1888 Your friend Nora Gillaspy
Dear Ida. Love many trust Few and Always paddle your own canoe. Is the wish of your friend Elie
To Ida If you wish that happiness Your coming day and years may bless And virtues crown your brow; Remain as as you are wont to be Faultless as you’ve been knon to me Remain as pure as you are now. Is the wish of— Sister Mattie
My little student. Always remember with true affection. Your teacher Jean S. Fry. –19, ‘87
To Ida Love me little Love me long Do not flirt for that is wrong.
Dear Ida When you get old and canot see put on your specks and think of me Your friend and Schoolmate Marine
Dear Little Ida, Who does the best his circumstance allows, Does well; Acts nobly; Angels could do no more. Lovingly, Mother Liberty Hill Feb 10th 88