I had mentioned some time ago that I collect year books, and, well, the fact still stands. To prove my point – a few days ago I picked up (for a rather sharp $25) a fine example of pre-collegiate optimism, photographed, bound and bound for glory.
They called this book The Shawnee, out of Shawano High School in Wisconsin. A small school, apparently – only the graduating students had individual portraits…sophs and freshers were photographed en masse, standing in rows: marceled, bobbed, slicked and squinting in the sun that has renewed itself thousands of times since.
The decoration was a flight of art deco airplanes, dirigibles, and some flying machines that haven't even been invented yet. Aviation, described as 'a youth among the age-old sciences' was chosen as its theme, for it symbolized adventure, invention and progress: proper aspirations for any graduating class.
One photo was something of a curiosity: Norma Emma Kroenke, wearing glasses with octogonal shaped lenses that attacked the nose right at its upper bridge. Her nose is small and flat, her eyes gray, possibly blue. She wears a double-looped necklace – the type I now see in vintage stores and flea markets everywhere. Someone could be wearing them now. Printed beneath her picture are the words 'In Memoriam'. She lived from 1915 – 1931. Sixteen years old. What on earth happened to her?
My particular copy was owned by Dorothy Berkhahn (the editor misspelled her name – a tiny handwritten 'h' corrected what must have been an exasperating error). She signed her name on the inner cover: widely and flamboyantly. This book is 76 years old. It is possible that Dorothy is still with us, her flamboyance intact…one can only hope!
Now, this book is riddled with autographs. In fact, it's so heavy with comments, that for a brief shaking-my-head-at-my-own-foolishness moment, I was actually jealous of her obvious popularity. I still have my own highschool yearbooks. And let me say that the pages are quite unpolluted with the hand-written word.
Dorothy had rich, dazzling auburn hair – the kind that glints in the sun, with color that is suffused with living light. She was called 'Dot', 'Red', 'Clara Bow', 'Darling'. There were sly references to Mr. Patia, organizer of The Girls' Athletic Association, even one from himself: 'Oh, how you hate to run – don't you? Practice up this summer and show me that you can, next Fall.'
She turned heads, certainly. John Kaphingst asked, 'May I see more of you, please?', the emotional Wally Karsted wrote, 'I will always remember you even after I am way in South Dakota. You are mine.' Olen Anderson beseeches her, 'Please do go easy on the boys next year. Study hard and you probably will graduate. Lots of luck with the opposite sex.'
But, as I read on, I noticed that many more autographs contained the ominous phrases, 'I don't know you very well', 'I wish I knew you better', 'I did not know you very long' and 'Didn't get to know you very well', and possibly the most damaging of all: 'Dear Dorothy, why don't you use your personality' – harsh words, 'Red' Krueger!
I wonder if these comments turned her pride and fame to ashes. Was she still proud of these compact compositions – now smeared and faded – crowding the margins of her book?
Who knows how she felt.
But when this was written…
'Dearest Dorothy –
Whatever else you haven't got you have a wealth of golden hair haven't you. I don't know you very well but I hope you have personality to match the charming beauty. You really need both.
…I can imagine pretty clearly her reaction.
She crossed it out.