Dear Gilbert – Lessons From 1936


While rustling through an old desk drawer, I ran across a bit of memorabilia given to my grandfather, Gilbert, when he was a boy in the ’30’s. This old piece of history — a leathery looking, paper booklet stamped on the cover with the word “Autographs” and inscribed “School Day Memories ‘07” — looks to have been stowed away blank and finally repurposed in 1936, when he was just 14 years old.

In it, I found three old movie tickets, two business cards and a small antique parchment stamped with the image of a classic 1920’s woman. Maybe it’s a cover for a movie ticket book? I don’t know. The real treasure, though, is the variety of short poems and nuggets of wisdom written just for Gilbert. The contributors: the various leaves on our family tree (and several close friends). This is a find I’ll treasure for the rest of my life!

The Contents:

Filled with playful, silly and often astute advice from family members long gone. A few messages bear repeating:

“Always be honest and you will be liked and respected by all man.”

In 1934, someone in the family resolved to ship the booklet up and down the West Coast in preparation for gifting it to Gilbert. The dates range from 1934-1936 and some folks included the cities they lived in.

Some of the quotes in the book are not original and a few are wrongly attributed. Also, for obvious reasons, I’ve obscured the names of the writers.

“Whenever a task is set for you, Don’t idly sit and view it; Nor be content to wish it done, Begin at once to do it.”

It’s exciting to think this booklet was touched by at least one member of every generation that has ever been named. The inscriptions are written by members of the Lost Generation (born: 1883-1900), the G.I. Generation/Greatest Generation (born: 1901-1924), then given to Gilbert himself, a member of the Silent Generation (born: 1925-1945). The book was passed down to Gilbert’s Baby Boomer children who shipped it to me, Generation X, because they know I love the memorabilia. Then, finally, enjoyed by my Millennial son who has a great love of history.


“Never give up when trials come, Never grow sad or blue. Never sit down with a tear or a frown, But paddle your own canoe.”

Gilbert ended up being a very successful man. Was it, in part, a result of the wisdom contained in these pages? They say it takes a village to raise to child. It seems that Gilbert’s village was strong and wise, indeed.

“Be like the postage stamp. It sticks to a thing until it gets there.”

It’s hard to argue with this solid advice, which I’m told was originally penned by Henry Wheeler Shaw under the pen name: Josh Billings.

The world has changed a lot since the 1930’s. Do you think the quote below still holds true today?

“Be kind and generous, and the world will give you kind and generous friends.”

Of course, there’s this timeless classic:

A friend in need.jpg
“A friend in need is a friend indeed.”

And this, the very best piece of advice in the entire book (and oddly out of place for the times):

“Remember my friend, it is no joke: you should not learn to smoke.”

It worked. Grandpa wasn’t a smoker.

This next one was ignored, though. Gilbert traveled extensively for work and for pleasure. It was one of his favorite things to do.

“Don’t travel the world to gain fame. Just stay at home and respect your name.”

There are so many more bits of wisdom and insights for 14-year old Gilbert between these pages. Maybe I’ll preserve a few more in a future post. For now, though, I will simply be thankful for the opportunity to catch a glimpse of what motivated one family in 1936.

“You cannot change yesterday, that is clear. Or begin to-morrow until it is here. So the only thing left for you and for me. Is to make today as sweet as can be.”


  1. That’s awesome! I just recently started getting into family history (my mom’s a family history nut) so I appreciate your post! I just took the Ancestry DNA things and got some pretty cool results back. Would be amazing to find some of my relatives old things!


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