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Thursday, 02 May 2013

The Yearbook

By Vicki E. Jones

She is old now. Her hair is snow white and she can no longer see. Her hearing is almost gone and she is frail but she remains in her home with the help of a caregiver.

Her short-term memory is very, very poor, but she retains some long-term memories, however inaccurate. She is 95 now and has outlived both the members of her family and of my father’s family of her generation, and she has outlived her husband - my father - by nearly 30 years. She has outlived my sister – her older daughter – by more than four years.

Yet it is only this year that I have become interested enough in family history to start doing some research and only because my husband is so interested in his own family’s history and encouraged me to do so.

That led me to realize that I have no photos of my mother before her early 20s and no real knowledge of her childhood. I knew that her high school yearbook would have a photo of her at age 16, her age at graduation (she skipped a grade) and information on her activities and interests in high school.

My mother has no recall of what became of her high school yearbook or of any junior high school yearbook just as she has no recall of who her teachers or classmates were in elementary school, junior high and high school except for two people that she remained friends with long after high school.

She does recall the names of the schools, though, and recalls when she graduated high school.

Since no copy of her yearbook was turning up on eBay, I finally thought to call her high school asking the teacher in charge of alumni affairs whether they had a copy of her yearbook available for purchase. My mother’s maiden name was Deborah Atchick, nickname Deb or Debby, so it was easy for him to look her up by name.

To my surprise, he emailed me a couple of days later and offered to send a used copy of her yearbook along with a bill for the small charge for the yearbook. (Had none been available, I would have asked for a scan of the page her photo appeared on, sent to me by email.)

Had it not been for the fact that she grew up in Philadelphia where many high schools have been there more than 100 years and they are steeped in tradition and maintain a copy of each old yearbook for those who are interested, it never would have happened. As it was, a copy that could be sold to me was an extra copy, one donated by some kind person who no longer wanted or needed it.

The yearbook came a week later. There, on the first page of January 1934 graduates (the first page because her last name started with the letter A), was my mother at age 16, but looking like a young girl of 13 or 14.

She looked like a cute kid. She had complained all these years that in high school she was called The Kid because she was so young. I figured that wasn’t the only reason: she looked like a kid, too.

I looked at her picture and then looked again. Then I grabbed a picture of myself at 13 or 14 and held it next to her picture. I knew there would be a resemblance because I was called Little Debby many times while I was growing up but the resemblance was remarkable. Her picture could have passed for a picture of me.

I have looked at her picture many times since and read and re-read the list of clubs and activities she was involved in. Somehow, acquiring a simple high-school yearbook has acquainted me with what my mother was like as a young girl, many years before she met my father.

There before me is the cute kid she once was, a kid that looks remarkably like I would look during my teenage years. When I look at her photo, I see her but I also see myself.

[INVITATION: All elders, 50 and older, are welcome to submit stories for this blog. They can be fiction, non-fiction, poetry, memoir, etc. Please read instructions for submitting.]

Posted by Ronni Bennett at 05:30 AM | Permalink | Email this post


Lucky you with those genes..my parents died young, my Father at 44 and my Mother about to be 47..I was l7 and about to be 21...Pictures are wonderful, we never saw pictures of our grandparents until long after our parents were gone..and a few years ago by accident I found a box of old photos at my Aunt;s house where we were visiting because of a death in the family...going through the box I found pictures of my parents in the l930s at the beach at Rockaway, NY...it was so wonderful I can get all teared up about it writing this...loved reading your piece...thanks for sharing..

Great story. Your words urge me to get the family memorabilia out of the boxes stored in our crawl space and start labeling what I haven't forgotten. Then get in touch with family cousins to share before it is too late.
Thank you for the reminder.
Michigan Grandma

For the last few years, I have started writing the names of former co-workers at the various places I have worked over the years.

Occasionally, another name will occur to me and I find the post-it of the place I worked and write the name down. I figure that as I age, these names will probably fade from my memory, but seeing their names might help refresh it.

FWIW, I am a list-keeper by nature since lists have help me to write stories ever since my programming days. And I still have yearbooks from 7th grade through high-school.

This is a good story, and piqued my memory yet again. Thanks, Vicki.

You were so fortunate to be able to get a copy of your mother's high-school yearbook. I don't have a copy of my own and wish I did.

I have a few photos of my mother in her 20's and early 30's and some when she was in her late 50's and early 60's but nothing else. I love to have more.

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