If you haven’t seen it yet, Forgotten Bookmarks is Michael Popek’s amazing site on which he features “the funny, heartbreaking and weird things I find in books.”
Popek recently shared this poignant vignette. The book title “Then I’ll Come back to You,” by Larry Evans, adds pathos to the overall composition. It is all too easy for me to create a story about a soulful young man giving the book and his picture to a loved one as a going away gift.
Evans’ novel was serialized in Metropolitan Magazine between February 1915 and November 1915. The novel must have enjoyed some success, for it was made into a silent movie released in 1916. According to contemporary news items, the production was filmed on location in Pensacola and Black Mountain, NC.
The movie, at least, portrayed Steve O’Mara as a young mountain boy who lived in the Adirondack Mountains, loved to fight, and was taken in by a well-to-do family after the death of his foster father. Steve was attracted by a young girl, Barbara, but she was repelled by his violent behavior. As the years pass, they resolve their issues until united at the end.
After I found the novel and movie synopsis, I wondered even more about the book and photo. Did some young man give the book to his girl? Did they see the movie together on a date, or did the giver see himself as young Steve O’Mara?
The image’s reverse side may give further, scant clues. The picture is signed, “Decoration Day, 1926,” in careful script. Memorial Day originated as Decoration Day, although the former term is more commonly used. I found this interesting reference in Wikipedia.
“Annual Decoration Days for particular cemeteries are held on a Sunday in late spring or early summer in some rural areas of the American South, notably in the mountain areas. In cases involving a family graveyard where remote ancestors as well as those who were deceased more recently are buried, this may take on the character of an extended family reunion to which some people travel hundreds of miles. People gather on the designated day and put flowers on graves and renew contacts with relatives and others. There often is a religious service and a picnic-like “dinner on the ground,” the traditional term for a potluck meal in which people used to spread the dishes out on sheets or tablecloths on the grass. It is believed that this practice began before the American Civil War and thus may reflect the real origin of the “memorial day” idea.”
I obviously don’t know that the young man came from the south, but his word choice and novel selection makes it easy to imagine someone who is familiar with Decoration Day traditions and found empathy for residents of the Adirondack Mountains.
I’ll never know the real story, but I often collect old pictures of young men in service uniforms at tag sales, because it is easy for me to wonder about their stories, and if they ever came home. Maybe one of these days I’ll actually write the stories.
“Then I’ll Come Back to You,” by Larry Evans is available for free download.