The brown suede binding on this 107-year-old book belies its age. The gold embossed title, “A Volume of Cheer,” promises smiles. But the brown suede binding is anything but cheerful. It’s fallen from the glue that once held it to the classic Victorian page design, and it is torn and burned on the edges. Flecks of brown paper crumble in my hand when I hold this antique book, and they cascade like tiny dried leaves to the floor.
The book lived in a King Edward cigar box stuffed with a tiny prayer book for Catholic sailors during World War II, and a black beaded rosary. Wrapped in tissue, a broken statue of Mary in her blue and white robes remains where cigars were once offered. A smattering of black and white photos with tropical backgrounds and sailors in white shirts and dark pants have notes written in pencil on the yellowing backs, “This is the line to the latrine!!” and “Here we are waiting for tonight’s special meal — Spam. Oh Brother!”
I’ll take a guess that this volume of cheer, published in 1912 by Dodge Publishing Company, may have sailed with the Catholic sailor on his way to the South Pacific where he was assigned to help build supply depots on the Solomon Islands.
Through the heat, bugs, malaria, and enemy attacks this copy of “A Volume of Cheer” now sits on my table. It’s tawny pages still offer wise and uplifting thoughts:
Speak thou the truth
Let others fence
And trim the
words for pay
In pleasant sunshine
Let others Bask
If you and I, just you and I
Should laugh instead
If we should grow —
just you and I
kinder and sweeter
Perhaps in some near
bay and by
A good time might
then what a happy
world ‘twould be
For you and me —
for you and me.
There’s enough of shadow along life’s way,
Enough of sorrow and
want and woe,
So the thing to do is, be
brave and true
And scatter sunshine where’er you go.
It was a recent dreary day that stuffed my imagination with worry about this and that, when I came across this shabby book of cheer. My body slumped and I fought to find my inner joy. The weariness of packing goods to take them elsewhere had struck. And then I found that old cigar box that I had placed in another box and then pressed it under a spare bed.
One of the black and white photos depicted tall palms and smoke in the distance. The photo’s back read, “The enemy came in after us, but we got ‘em first.”
And there I was feeling sorry for myself, when the sailor whose box of wartime memories told me a real horror and fearful story — war. He knew he could be dead tomorrow. So he probably opened his suede leather bound “A Volume of Cheer” to remind himself:
“Resolved, to live with all my might while I do live; Resolved never to lose one moment of time, but improve it in the most profitable way I possibly can; Resolved, never to do anything which I should despise or think meanly of in another; Resolved never to do anything out of revenge; Resolved, never to do anything which I should be afraid to do if it were the last hour of my life.”
And now I wrap this worn book of cheer in lace so that it remains safe in beauty while in my possession. It’s wise words remain ageless.