Column: Remembering books, poems is like revisiting old friends

Published 12:00 am Thursday, October 23, 2003

Not this week, but the last, was full of little interesting tidbits. If you remember, I had written an account of having covered myself in glory by reciting a poem starting, &uot;October gave a party.&uot; I expressed regret in not remembering more than the first couple of lines of the poem.

Then, a week ago Tuesday, Rachelle Fliehman brought a copy of the entire poem which she’d found for me on the internet. I also received another copy of the poem from an Alice Hobbs, who as far as I can figure out, lives in Woodlands, Texas, where she has a gift, card and home accesory shop in the Panther Creek Shopping Center.

Name of the shop? October Gave a Party. Alice is often asked, why? She explains that she and her Aunt Alice (now deceased) for whom she was named, both had October birthdays.

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She said that her mother and her mother’s four sisters had to memorize the poem as one by one, they reached the third grade. I think I was in the third grade when we had to memorize it. But there must have been an age difference between Alice’s relatives and me. She speaks of George Cooper’s poem as a 1930’s poem. I recited it for my dance class not later than 1926, probably a year or two earlier.

It doesn’t matter. It’s the same glorious poem. Both Alice and her 0Aunt Alice, who was an artist, love the season. She says some of her aunt’s autumnal paintings always hung in the hall of her childhood home in Illinois.

&uot;Growing up in Illinois,&uot; my correspondent writes, &uot;we were surrounded by glorious fall foliage, a crispness in the air, and fragrance of the bountiful season. My October birthday always meant a wiener roast and a hayride with family and friends. At some point my aunts would always recite ‘October’s Party.’&uot;

The year her shop was purchased was the year her beloved Aunt Alice was dying. &uot;I named the shop in love, honor and memory of my aunt.&uot;

There was no return address on the envelope in which this more than welcome missive arrived, nor could I find a Woodlands, Texas, in my faithful, though somewhat dated, Atlas.

I hope this column gets back to my friend someway. I want her to know that I’m grateful to her and that I’ve already set about re-memorizing the part of the poem I’d forgotten.

When my mother was a child, she and her niece, about the same age as my mother&045;since she was the daughter of one of my mother’s half sisters &045; had elocution lessons. They each had a book called a Speaker. It was a book that fascinated me.

Before I could read, my mother used to read to me from it. There were many poems in it supporting the temperance movement. I seemed to take to those and suffered in delightful agony over such lines as, &uot;Father, dear father, come home with me now, the clock in the steeple strikes 10,&uot; all about the little girl trying to lure her drunken father out of the saloon, while her baby brother, Willy, lies dying.

Not quite as melancholy, perhaps, as the poem about the poor little crippled boy, his name was Tommy, I think, whose drunken stepmother flung him down the cellar stair, crippling him for life. He was not beyond the hope of heaven, however. A little street girl, Betsy, &uot;with the golden hair,&uot; comes often to visit him and tell him about heaven. So when he dies, he’s happy to go.

Paul Revere’s Ride and the saga of Barbara Frietchie were both there and at one time I knew both of them by heart. I still remember large passages from each.

There were short dialogues and pages of jokes. Remembering that this was the era when women were growing more demanding of equality, it is interesting that one of the jokes I remember is from an interview with an explorer.

&uot;Do you believe in clubs for women?&uot; asks the reporter. &uot;Yes, if kindness fails.&uot;

The other joke I remember is a play upon the supposed lack of humor among the people of England and the alleged dishonesty of lawyers.

An attorney whose name is Strange, tells his English friend that instead of having his name on his tombstone after his death, the American attorney will simply have the words, &uot;Here lies an honest lawyer.&uot;

&uot;Everyone reading the words,&uot; he explains, &uot;will say, ‘That’s strange.’&uot;

The Englishman is fascinated by the story and, eager to pass it on to his English friends, tells it to them, but with the punch line, &uot;That’s deucedly singular.&uot;

I think that book finally just wore out. It was pretty well tattered by the two generations that loved it. Or, perhaps, it was simply lost in one of our several moves.

I miss it.

(Love Cruikshank is an Albert Lea resident. Her column appears Thursdays.)