Sunday, January 20, 2008

Mammoth Composition Book

Donaldson Family of Sugar Creek Township
Nora, Sarah, Cornelius, Hawley

I recently posted some of my grandmother's diary entries from 1912. Another artifact I have from her life is one of her elementary school notebooks, a "Mammoth Composition Book" paper notebook, from the State Graded School at Millard, Wisconsin. It's funny to me, but I can imagine her there easily, since I attended the same elementary school through fourth grade, when the two room brick schoolhouse closed its doors for the last time. I haven't been able to find a year for this notebook, though her handwriting is clear enough that I'm guessing it's from at least sixth or seventh grade, so perhaps the book is from around 1902. 

All the subjects are together. There is a section on the body and its parts, complete with drawings of a cross section of a thigh bone and a colored diagram of the heart. There is a section on food and why we eat, and a drawing of a cross section of a tooth, another of a stomach. At the back there is "a grammer" with only a few parsed sentences, and a hand-drawn map of Walworth County.

By far the largest part is devoted to poems and song lyrics copied out, none attributed except for two original ones. I knew some of the poems, and was able to Google others. For example, there were familiar Stephen Foster lyrics for My Old Kentucky Home and The Old Folks At Home. She copied out Thomas Moore's poem The Last Rose of Summer and Oft in the Stilly Night were there, and Sir Henry Bishop's Home Sweet Home, and Charles Eastman's Mill May. There's an anonymous nineteenth century narrative poem called Papa's Letter. Grandma included two poems/songs I couldn't locate anywhere, something called Wisconsin Song, and another called October Days.

I wonder if all the children read these poems together, or if she chose them on her own. Did she memorize them? Did she recite them in class? I have no way of knowing. All of the poems are cringingly sentimental, and some certainly would not pass the test of political correctness. Today and tomorrow I'll share the ones which were unfamiliar to me, ending with the original poems of a child over a century ago.

Oft In The Stilly Night (
Thomas Moore)

Oft in the stilly night,
Ere Slumber's chain has bound me,
Fond Memory brings the light
Of other days around me;
The smiles, the tears,
Of boyhood's years,
The words of love then spoken,
The eyes that shone
Now dimmed and gone,
The cheerful hearts now broken!
Thus in the stilly night,
Ere Slumber's chain has bound me,
Sad Memory brings the light
Of other days around me.

When I remember all
The friends, so link'd together,
I've seen around me fall,
Like leaves in wintry weather;
I feel like one
Who treads alone
Some banquet-hall deserted,
Whose lights are fled,
Whose garland's dead,
And all but he departed!
Thus in the stilly night,
Ere Slumber's chain has bound me,
Sad Memory brings the light
Of other days around me.

Mill May (Charles Eastman)

The strawberries grow in the mowing, Mill May,
And the bob-o-link sings in the tree;
On the knolls the red clover is growing, Mill May,
Then come to the meadow with me.
We'll pick the ripe clusters among the thick grass,
On the knolls in the mowing, Mill May,
And the long afternoon together we'll pass,
Where the clover is growing, Mill May.

The sun stealing under your bonnet, Mill May,
Shall kiss a soft glow to your face,
And your lip the red berries leave on it, Mill May,
A tint that the sea-shell would grace;
The, come the ripe clusters among the deep grass
We'll pick in the mowing, Mill May,
And the long afternoon together we'll pass,
Where the clover is growing, Mill May!

Papa's Letter (anonymous)

I was sitting in my study,
Writing letters when I heard
"Please dear mama, Mary told me
Mama mustn't be disturbed.

"But I's tired of the kitty;
Want some ozzer fing to do.
Writing letters, is ou mama?
Tan't I wite a letter too?"

"Not now, darling, mama's busy;
Run and play with kitty, now."
"No, no mama, me wite letter;
Tan, if 'ou will show me how."

I would paint my darling's portrait
As his sweet eyes searched my face.
Hair of gold, eyes of azure,
Form of childish, witching grace.

But the eager face was clouded,
As I slowly shook my head,
Till I said: "I'll make a letter
Of you, darling boy, instead."

So I parted back the tresses
From his forehead high and white,
And a stamp in sport I pasted
'Mid its waves of golden light.

Then I said, "Now, little letter,
Go away and bear good news."
And I smiled as down the staircase
Clattered loud the little shoes.

Down the street the baby hastened
Till he reached the office door.
"I'se a letter, Mr. Postman;
Is there room for any more?

'Cause dis' letter's doin to papa,
Papa lives with God, 'ou know,
Mama sent me for a letter,
Do 'ou fink at I tan go?"

But the clerk in wonder answered,
"Not today, my little man."
"Den I'll find anozzer office,
'Cause I must go if I tan."

Suddenly the crowd was parted,
People fled to left, to right,
As a pair of maddened horses
At the moment dashed in sight.

No one saw the baby figure-
No one saw the golden hair,
Till a voice of frightened sweetness
Rang out on the autumn air.

'Twas too late-a moment only
Stood the beauteous vision there,
Then the little face lay lifeless
Covered o'er with golden hair.

Rev'rently they raised my darling,
Brushed away the curls of gold,
Saw the stamp upon his forehead
Growing now so icy cold.

Not a mark the face disfigured,
Showing where the hoof had trod;
But the little life had ended-
Papa's letter was with God.

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