Sunday, February 10, 2008

From All of Us

Every once in a while I'll come across a book that is signed by more than one person. Sometimes, for example, a volume is signed by both its author and illustrator -- which makes it twice as interesting. My copy of RETURN TO GONE-AWAY by Elizabeth Enright must set some kind of record, as nineteen different people have signed the front endpapers. None of them wrote or illustrated this book, none are likely famous. In fact, based on the handwriting, I'd say that most were grade school kids. Dated March 16, 1962 and inscribed "To Pamela, With all our love," the book appears to be a gift from a group of classmates.

I suppose a cranky collector who demands that all his volumes be in pristine condition would be appalled by endpapers cluttered with childish signatures, but these are the kinds of books I find most intriguing. I can spend hours daydreaming about the events of March 16, 1962 and the identity of Pamela. In my imagination, Pamela is about to move away and her classmates have decided to get her a gift. I imagine each of the kids contributing fifteen or twenty cents to buy this book. I can almost see the covert glances and hear the suppressed giggles as the teacher sends Pamela to the principal's office on some trumped-up errand in order for the students to sign the book. "You sign it first," the children urge, and the teacher writes "To Pamela, With all our love" and signs her own name, Mary Hatzis. Then the book is passed up and down the aisles as each member of the class hurriedly signs it: the best friend who is heartbroken that Pamela is going away...the boy who has a secret crush on her...the girl who once traded her tunafish sandwich for Pam's peanut butter sandwich...the class bully who doesn't want to sign any stupid book for any dumb girl...the girl in hand-me-down clothes who's never owned a book before and holds this one in her hands for just a few extra moments, wishing it were hers. Every kid with a story of their own.

This is how I imagine it.

Of course I could be wrong on every count. Maybe Pamela wasn't moving. Maybe Mary Hatzis wasn't the teacher. There are too many "maybes" to consider. The only thing I know for sure is that, nearly forty-six years after Pamela received it, the book now sits on my shelves -- its history cloaked in mystery, its story open to speculation and imagination.

1 comment:

Daughter Number Three said...

I wonder if James Gianninoto is the same one who is a lawyer in Newark (he went to high school in Maine and Connecticut)...

Or if Billy Zilinek is the same Bill Zilinek who is/was an art teacher in Bellingham, Washington, and more recently was a volunteer docent at the Dali museum.

I, too, am fascinated by finding the names of people in books, and wonder who they were, and what they went on to do with their lives.