As my parents filled their autograph books as young teenagers in the mid-1930s, it wasn’t just their friends that they approached. They also asked family members to sign – sisters, brothers and parents.
For the most part, entries by siblings are indistinguishable from those made by friends. Parents, though, offered bits of the sage advice you’d expect from an older generation.
Unexpected though (at least to me), was the entry of my mom’s mother, Ellen H. Andersen. Grandma Andersen arrived in America from Denmark in 1920, shortly after marrying Grandpa, and spoke not a word of English on her arrival in the states. As a homemaker, she was slow to learn English and spoke with a thick Danish accent the rest of her life.
Yet, when asked to write something in Mom’s autograph book, she showed an eloquence that caught me off guard, over 70 years later. On Sept. 26, 1935 – the date of her entry – Grandma was a 37-year-old mother of four. I’d like to think that the 12 lines of prose that were entered that day in tiny, neat penmanship were her own words, but it’s more likely that she copied them from something she read.
Nevertheless, her words set a course that my mother followed the rest of her life. Here’s what she wrote:
Will make someone feel that life is worthwhile,
Just one little look from a twinkling eye,
Given to someone as you’re passing by,
Will brighten and cheer some sorrowful soul,
To the extent of new hope to choose for his goal,
One seldom knows the damage and weight,
Of harsh cutting words before it’s too late,
How helpless we are, our words to correct,
Which have traveled like fire and as bad in effect.
Keep bitter words firmly under control,
Be free with your smile, and brighten some soul.
Writing prompt of the day: What’s the most surprising thing you’ve learned about your grandparents?
Photo: Ellen Andersen (seated at right) in 1943 with three of her children - Elsie, Norma and Richard. (Walter B. Lehmer collection)