I have a hard time imagining that my great uncle Everett appreciated the 70-page booklet of classical poems he was awarded in 1931 as “Champion Speller of District 27.”
The booklet would have fit snugly in his front shirt pocket had he carried it that closely to his heart, but it’s in pristine condition. There’s no broken spine. No ear-marked pages. No pencil markings of favorite lines.
Maybe he didn’t identify with the selections even though the publisher wrote this of the eighth grade collection: “Every pupil should love these poems and a few may be memorized. Each may be read in class and used as a basis for exercises in English.” Or maybe he kept it safe at the bottom of a drawer and opened its pages only when he was done with the day’s chores, his overalls exchanged for nightclothes, his hands scrubbed clean. Or maybe—thanks to the country school teacher--he’d already committed his favorites to memory.
Evangeline and When War Shall Be No More by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow ** If by Rudyard Kipling ** In Flander’s Field by John McCrae ** O Captain! My Captain! by Walt Whitman ** Morning by John Keats ** America For Me by Henry van Dyke ** Concord Hymn by Ralph Waldo Emerson ** Annabel Lee by Edgar Allan Poe ** My Symphony by William Ellery Channing
I remember Uncle Everett when he was in his 50s, 60s, and 70s. He was Grandma’s baby brother, a bachelor who joined us for Sunday dinners and offered to share his wad of snuff with my brother and me just to tease her. I heard stories of how he played Santa for my mom and her cousins and how he stayed on the farm after his father died to care for his mother while his siblings left to marry and raise families.
Uncle Everett’s booklet has been part of my collection of family memorabilia for nearly 25 years, but I read it for the first time last week. And then I reread his obituary.
There must be another story behind this eighth grade collection of classical poems. Everett’s obituary notes his eighth grade graduation date as 1929. There’s no mention of schooling beyond that.