[This week I inherited a box of old books from my father as he is preparing to move to a new house. My wife made the selection from his book shelves, choosing antique editions of classic literature, most of which had been my mother's. When I returned home she handed me a beautiful forest green copy of poems by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. I instantly recognized it from its place on the shelf during my childhood and remembered using it for a project in a high school music class.
Then she opened the front cover where I saw it was not just my mother’s book, it was signed by “Josephine Forest”, her mother and my grandmother. On a page by the table of contents it was also signed by “Miss Flossie Jenkins”, my grandmother’s mother.
Then she turned the page for a third signature, “Miss Minnie F. Le Craw”. So this was Minnie’s book, presumably given to her daughter, Flossie, then my grandmother, Josephine, then my mother, Nancy, and now I have it to one day pass on to my daughters. Who knew Longfellow would inspire six generations?
But there was more. On the page after Minnie’s signature was the note that must have accompanied the book when it was given to her as a gift: “Miss Minnie Le Craw, with friendship of F. M. J 1885″ That would be Frank Jenkins, her future beau and husband. In 1885 she would have been 18 years old, living in Mount Carmel, where their romance was beginning as teenagers.
The book was published in 1885 by Houghton Mifflin and Company / The Riverside Press of Boston. It is a beautiful book with an intricate cover, gold gilt edge, and hundreds of poems, many illustrated. She must have taken it on her journeys as she moved around the country, even as a substantial book in size compared to her petite diary and small Bible.
So where did Frank Jenkins acquire a recently published edition of Longfellow’s poetry in the mid-1880s smalltown? Was there a store selling books near Mount Carmel? Did he have to order it? Did he travel to a larger city, maybe Cincinnati?
More importantly, for what occasion did Frank give this book to Minnie? She had moved to Mount Carmel in 1883 as a 16-year-old, probably meeting Frank at that time and beginning their relationship before she moved to Waveland in 1886. Was this book a birthday or Christmas present? Or was it a gift before she left with her sister’s family to move across the state? We know Minnie loved to read. Several times she quoted poetry in her diary entries. And she celebrated Longfellow’s birthday with an assignment for her students. This was probably a very special book for her.
The book provides one final clue. Inside the back cover is a quote written in Minnie’s handwriting that I have not been able to find in the book or anywhere else:
“In anyany (sic) weather, rain or shine a heart shall be a Valentine.”