The Mark Twain Birthday Book that sits amongst my collection of old and treasured books, once belonged to my great grandmother, Ellen Hayward.
This little book proved useful to my great grandmother for remembering birthdays of family and friends, and also for recording family weddings and deaths, and the occasional interesting family event. After Ellen died, her daughter Doris, my grandmother, inherited this little book and added to the record of our family history from her generation. My mother has also added her contributions and handed me the book a few years ago. Likewise, I continue to add to the family record.
I cherish this little book. Every now and then I take it off the shelf, make myself comfy on my lounge with a cuppa, and pour over its pages. Reading through the ebb and flow of generations of my family’s lives always evokes something deep within me.
It’s a sense of belonging, a sense of having been passed the family baton, and a desire to play my part well in running this family race in my generation.
The pages of The Mark Twain Birthday Book are now discoloured and stained with age, and some are no longer attached to the binding. Although in places the ink is fading, the beautiful handwriting is still visible, reminding me of an earlier age when life was not so rushed, and penmanship was a valued craft.
Slipped in between its pages are yellowed newspaper cuttings.
There are records of weddings –
“… the bride was given away by her father and wore a white mousseline
de soire, trimmed with lace and insertion, and an embroidered tulle veil
arranged over a coronet wreath of orange blossoms …” (19 Sept, 1900)
Of births –
” HAYWARD – April 20,1906, to the wife of George W. Hayward, Mildura,
Elswick St., a daughter, Thelma Jean.”
Of deaths –
“HAYWARD, Ellen, November 3, 1954, widow of the late George W. Hayward,
mother of… grandmother of … and great grandmother of …… and Julie..”
One newspaper clipping dated 1944 relating to my uncle is headed “U.S. Awards to Australians”, and reads :
“The War Dept. has announced the award of the Legion of Merit to six
Australians for exceptionally meritorious conduct”.
Amongst this memorabilia there is one very special sheet of notepaper that I delicately open every time and it always moves me to tears.
The edges are frayed in places and the folds deeply imprinted. This page has been opened and closed many times since it was written. There is a poem on the page. Handwritten. The handwriting is beautiful and the author has taken special care in writing each word, spacing them just so. The ink is smudged in places hinting that many tears have fallen on these words over the years.
The poem begins, To Thelma and concludes with from George.
Thelma is the daughter born to my great grandmother in 1906, and George is her brother. Thelma was married to Alan and they lived in a little cottage in Leura, in the Blue Mountains, NSW. They loved their little home, ‘Birdswood Cottage’, with its beautiful garden that they spent hours creating together. Although they had been married for many years they had no children.
Thelma’s life changed forever the day her beloved Alan died. It seems George was moved deeply by his sister’s grief, and put pen to paper and wrote her this beautiful poem.
When sunlight brightened your garden,
With your lover hand in hand,
Came peace and love to this garden,
In a world that seemed so grand.
Now all alone in this garden
As the petals have left the rose,
The sigh of the wind seems to whisper
Like the voice of the one you chose.
You must live again in that garden,
With flowers so sweet and rare
Let thoughts be full of its beauty
And the love you had to share.
The birds may be hushed in the garden,
And the shadows near sunset fall,
With light and joy at the dawning
Come memories that are shared by all.
The birds will awake in your garden,
And their melody tune to the breeze.
His presence will ever be near you,
In the quiet of the murmuring trees.
He will come again in the moonlight
And gently press your hand,
For he’s just ahead in the gloaming
Of that far eternal strand.
Beautiful – isn’t it.
And isn’t it amazing that lives that were lived generations ago, still reach out and impact those of us who follow.
There is a verse in the Bible that I have memorised.
“When David had served God’s purpose in his generation, he fell asleep.” (Acts 13:36)
I have memorised this verse because I realise that God has given me a purpose in my generation and I want to be sure to fulfil it.
One day my children will inherit the Mark Twain Birthday Book, and continue to write our family history within its pages.
I want to be vigilant in sowing good seeds today so that the legacy of my life will be such that their generation, and those following, will enjoy great blessing and be positioned to take all the remarkable opportunities that will arise for them to fulfil their purpose in their own generation.