Wylly and Walton were brother and sister, they were also my great-aunt and my maternal grandfather. Wylly, christened William Michael, was two years older than her brother Walton. Linked by more than blood they shared a love of books and the written word. Wylly grew up to be a writer and journalist and Walton owned a book business, selling rare books and civil war reprints.
I have copies of the books my aunt wrote and the gifts she gave me over the years, but I have nothing except a few photographs of my grandfather who died when I was two. That changed the other day when my cousin, McKenzie surprised me by sending a set of bookends my grandfather, Walton made for his sister, Wylly.
They arrived in a small box that had a familiar smell even before I had it opened.
You may remember this post where I wrote about gifts from Aunt Wylly over the years and how much my sister Margaret and I loved the smell when we would open our presents at birthdays and Christmas. Seeing the package of mothballs and thinking about why McKenzie had gone to the trouble to put some into my package made me smile.
Here are the bookends my grandfather made for his sister, Wylly Folk St. John. It feels right that they should be tucked in tight around the books she wrote. I’m not sure how old he was when he built them for her, but I have a feeling it may have been a task for one of his boy scout merit badges. I’ve placed them in a slightly different way than they were intended, but I can see them more clearly from where I sit and write.
I moved this particular book to the side so you could see a bookend next to one of my favorite books my aunt wrote called, ‘The Ghost Next Door.’ It’s the book I took my daughter Miranda’s name from to honor my aunt. Her parents named her William Michael even though she surprised them when she was born by being a girl. Everyone called her Willie growing up which she later changed to Wylly and I never heard her complain about her unusual name. She was like a dear grandmother to me, but I couldn’t bring myself to give my daughter a boy’s name and Miranda seemed like both a perfect fit for baby girl and a sweet way to honor my connection to my great-aunt.
I like how the initials ‘WF’ could be Walton or Willie ‘Wylly’ Folk. The style of the initials makes me think of the Art deco period in the 1920s. My grandfather was born in 1910 and would have been in his teen years as the style was becoming popular. I don’t remember ever hearing stories about him being handy with tools or doing any woodcarving as an adult so I think I may be right in assuming these were made by a young Walton.
The University of Georgia has all of my aunt’s letters, manuscripts, and personal correspondence in its rare books and special collections library and I’m hoping a bit of research the next time I’m home will give me more details about the history of the bookends.
Lacking the real story, the writer in me has already created several versions of when and how my grandfather made them which will have to do until I can discover more. I feel sure both my aunt and grandfather would be pleased to know how valued and well-loved they still are and I’m terribly grateful to my cousin McKenzie for giving them to me. They’ve had a special place on her bookshelf for many years and it’s a sweet gift of family connection that she has shared with me by passing them on.
Beautiful story, thanks for sharing something so personal and heartwarming.
How neat. I know I read some of your aunt’s books when I was a kid – small world. It’s wonderful that you have those bookends.
How wonderful to have handmade bookends and family books like this. I have a bookcase made by my dad and a magazine rack that belonged to my great-uncle. Every time I see both objects, I’m reminded of both people.
It never ceases to impress me how how much small and ordinary thing can mean to us because of their associations. One of my sisters hopes to be left a wire cake tester – they probably cost 15 cents on ebay – that was used all the time when we were younger because it reminds her of home. Your bookends look so deco! Well done for your cousin who sent them to you.
When you speak of your family history, it seems like such an amazing legacy (well, the further back history that is). I love that you have so many old photographs and know so many of the stories. Those bookends are really well done, especially if he made them as a fairly young man. There are so many skills that just aren’t taught anymore and woodcarving is definitely one of them.
I came to your blog by (a very happy) accident. I am so intrigued, that I decided to start reading from the very beginning (of your previous blog). I am up to October 6, 2008, and am enjoying every sentence! Thank you.
What a love family treasure. Yours is the perfect home for them.
Wonderful post and wow, what a wonderful, caring gift from McKenzie. How special it is that you have those bookends, made by your grandfather’s own hands. And it’s great to see how you cherish them.
Cheers and here’s to family memories and connections.
E…. I am so glad you finally got them. It brought tears to my eyes to read this. We were truly blessed to Have Wylly Folk St.John in our lives and I will always be so very proud to call her my G’ma St. John (that is how she always signed my books.. well: G’ma and Sarge). Mothballs have ALWAYS reminded me of her house at 198 Dogwood Avenue and the Cabin (in the early years). You are keeping the family tradition alive with your writing and it is wonderful to read. We love you so much!!! Shelley and the Boys and all the little St. Johns, as Rebecca used to say!!!!
A big thank you goes out to Elizabeth for all her hard work, dedication and love she has put into her blog. I might have missed it, but just in case I have..G’ma St John used mothballs to keep bugs and other pest out of her kitchen pantry and other places in her house. I lived with her during my high school and college years. No one would believe me, but I could taste the mothball smell in some of our food, especially my ” no bake chocolate” cookies. Then again it just might have been me learning to cook.