Do you ever feel lucky?
I don’t think I wander around feeling lucky. I suspect I am “luckier” than most. I listen to my intuition, my gut feeling about things. I will take a different turn on a regular route somewhere if my gut says to. I will suddenly drive out of my way to make an unplanned stop if I have a sudden urge to do so. And these things generally always help me to avoid accidents or stumble upon some great item or gift or sighting. Lucky at contests? I do enter raffles in the autumn at every local craft show I go to. I am not really lucky at those – if you buy enough tickets your odds increase dramatically and you are supporting a good cause – usually a school’s sports or arts program. The Lottery? I do buy scratch tickets which in the long run are generally a break even or a losing proposition, but I win in that I enjoy the word puzzles and occasional cash prize which always seem to erase the memory of the losses.
You know that feeling you get when you think you might have a winning lottery ticket? Not just a little win, but The Big Win? You know that feeling? You are scratching off the numbers and the excitement spreads through you. For just a few seconds, perhaps even minutes you have this sensation that your entire life is about to change and the future passes in flashes before your eyes! The wealth! The ease! The travel! Then the sudden – oh crap –it’s NOT a winner, feeling? You’ve scratched off the wrong area. What a feeling: that rise of hope, joy, adrenaline and as quickly, a sudden fall back into – and maybe slightly below – normalcy.
I don’t get depressed when I don’t win. I assume it just wasn’t my time to win.
This past week upon returning from a trip I was looking through a find from an antique mall and I got that feeling. It started slowly and began to creep through my entire body as my brain started to make assumptions about the possibilities.
Just back from a few days in Maine I unpacked an autograph book from the 1870’s that I’d picked up at the USA Antique Mall in Arundel (that’s the first antique mall you come to on Route 1 going north, not the second one which is also prone to treasures). I remembered the clerk was training his father on how to ring up a sale. There was an extremely pretty and friendly Australian Red Sheep dog behind the counter and I had moved down the counter to pet her over the swinging door. She was sweet.
Earlier that day I had risen at 4:30 so that I could get to Ogunquit’s Marginal Way in time for sunrise, my first in Maine. Every time I had said to someone I was going to Ogunquit, they said I must visit the Marginal Way. It is a winding, rolling paved walkway along the rocky shoreline of the Atlantic Ocean offering some pretty stunning views. Last year on my trip it rained for five days with the sun only coming out in the afternoons to create humidity and discomfort. I never made it there.
That was Autumn, this was Spring. Sunrise was scheduled for 5:14 a.m. I was there at 5:05 along with a few walkers that I assume were locals based on their demeanor. Tourists are chattier, rarely up that early and would fill the walkway later in the day. I wandered, I sat on the memorial benches, getting several obligatory sunrise photos and was done by 5:45.
After that I made my way north to Wells, Maine where there is a peaceful trail at the Rachel Carson Refuge Center. It is an easy, winding trail through forests and along estuaries with occasional views of snowy egrets, goldfinches, turtles and seemingly endless salt marshes. Further out, the Atlantic rolled in along a much less rocky shore. It was too early for the migratory birds or the Spring wildflowers that were already blooming in Central Massachusetts where I live, but the one-mile trail was bordered with large white flowers of the wild hydrangea and a pleasant breeze accompanied me.
By the time I reached the antique mall later in the day, my ankles had been screaming at me for quite some time. I knew I did not have much time left to shop at this or the other antique mall before my legs were going to refuse to carry me along. Times like this is when I wish I’d not eaten that bread the day before. It always hits me in the joints of my legs first.
My eyes darted from shelf to shelf at the antique mall, skipping easily over the glassware to save time, slowing down in areas of books or trinkets that might hold memories for me. It was important not to stop and stare too long into any one display case as it might signal over-interest but also standing on the concrete floor would allow my ankles to tell my back that it was going to be in pain soon, too.
I avoided the rear of the building as it seems to be mostly oversized items of furniture, farming implements, old signage and a lot of dust. Things I should not look at because they would not fit into the car. In the second to last aisle I saw something just below eye level that I was looking for: a small, worn autograph book nestled in among two old tinplate toys and an array of costume jewelry. I made note of the case number in the memo app in my phone and moved on. I would need to look inside the book before making a decision. It was more costly than I am usually willing to spend and that would mean the inside had to be special. It would have to have numerous readable signatures with messages to the original owner of the book, dated, possibly including locations.
And it did. After a quick glance through, I nodded at the gentleman who opened the case for me and told him I would take it. At the counter, he wrapped it gently in thin Kraft paper from a stack of sheets they keep at the ready to wrap glassware and other fragile items. I did not unwrap it until I was home several days later.
Sitting in front of the television, I removed the paper carefully. I started to look through the pages at the beautiful writing and often humorous poems people would include. It was Mary Wescott’s book that she likely received December 31, 1877, as this was the first and oldest entry. All of the entries were all from places in Maine: Wyndham, Standish, Sebago Lake.
As I go through the pages of swirling cursive writing from quill pen or pencil, I like to imagine the person taking the time to think up something special to say to Mary or May as some of them called her.
As was the trend, signatures and thoughts expressed were generally from family members, school mates and teachers. Sister Abbie wrote, “May each shining hour witness golden deeds.” Women writings in these books are usually neater, more heartfelt.
“Our friendship has budded on earth. May it blosom in heaven, Are the wishes of your friend, Ginie Van Buskirk. April 9th, 1883.”
Men tend towards the humorous or the simple signature only. In this book, written perpendicular to the normal entries was an unusual message:
“Mary, tell Allen he must give the horse more oats and oftener, Frank.”
And this gem:
“May, In the world’s wide field of battle, In the bivouac of life, Be not like dumb driven cattle! Be a heroine—a wife—. Ever your friend, S. E. Strout, Feb. 20 1883.”
A heroine, a wife. A sign of the times.
I skipped randomly through the book at first. “Do the duty that lies nearest thee.” This caught my eye. It seemed kind of ominous but good advice. It was signed L. M. Alcott. “Funny,” I remember thinking, “This person knows someone with the same initials as Louisa May Alcott.” It could happen. It was in a heavier black ink than the other signatures. It wasn’t until I looked through the book several times that my brain started to say, “You should google Louisa May Alcott’s signature and see if there is a resemblance.” After all, I thought, it was the late 1880’s. She could have met the author in Maine. I imagined scenarios in which they could have met while summering at the beach in those long full-body swimming dresses.
The image search yielded an identical signature to the one in the book! Wow, Mary had meet Louisa May Alcott! That was exciting. What a find. I briefly wondered what the value of her autograph might be but knew that I would never part with it. It was a treasure.
I flipped randomly through more pages and came upon another signature: “Faithfully yours, Wilkie Collins”, author of The Woman in White and The Moonstone books. And another, Henry W. Longfellow. And then, Edgar A. Poe!
Okay, I know that you ‘dear reader’ are starting to snicker at me. And I accept that. For a few moments, I have to say, I had this amazing feeling, this life-about-to-change feeling that the universe had gifted me with something that could be so valuable I should not even be touching it with my grubby little fingers. It was a brief elation because I knew deep down that such a thing would never get past an antique dealer and into that display case. Such a thing would more likely be found completely by accident at the yard sale of a recently deceased person with things being cleared out of an old house without concern for value.
I googled and compared other images of signatures. They all matched. Then I looked at the cover of the book. “Companion Autographs” it read. Hmmm, I had never seen “companion” on one of my books before. I googled “Companion autograph book” and on a live auction house site discovered a listing with a cover identical to mine that bore the following description:
“America. a 19th century collectible autograph book titled, “Companion Autographs” containing facsimile autographs and inscriptions from a number of famous historical figures. Some facsimile signatures include: Abraham Lincoln, Louisa May Alcott, Lord Alfred Tennyson, Rutherford B. Hays, Bayard Taylor, R.W. Emerson…” The list goes on. It went on to say it had come from an estate in Idaho and had a copy of the obituary of most recent owner of that book, probably a descendent of the original owner. https://www.liveauctioneers.com/item/57103291_19th-century-collectible-autograph-book
That explained a lot.
I also found mention of it on a message board at AutographMagazine.com. This one, though, had a cover that included the famous folks’ signatures. Had mine had that on the cover, it would have given me an inkling that they were inside and I would have known up front that they were not real. Looking back at them now, they are clearly in a different ink style and obviously not real. Oh, hindsight.
Still, that winning feeling, that sudden elation, that spreads through your body and offers insight into the possibilities of a windfall, is a pretty wonderful feeling. Even if fleeting, it is a feeling that I can now revisit every time I look into this particular Autograph book which will take its place proudly in my tiny but growing collection. It is now mine and holds memories for me. One of these days, that treasure could be real.