Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Mystery in the Glomerata: Uncovered After Seven Decades

The 1939 Glomerata, Auburn's yearbook. 

My father's college yearbooks have been in our hall bookcase as long as I can remember. And as long as I can remember, my father never opened them. He was not a man to live in the past. He lived in the present--every single day. One hundred percent. 

After he died, I gave away quite a few of his old books, but not his yearbooks from Auburn. You just can't give away a yearbook with the improbable name "The Glomerata."

This past year, I have been editing my father's World War II letters, which he wrote from the Pacific during the final year of the war. I can write more about that another time. I mention this in passing only because it was in researching his letters that I opened up his college yearbooks for the very first time in my life.

My father, Captain William Ashley Chapman, served with the 1902d Engineer Aviation Battalion on Ie Shima during the Battle of Okinawa. A friend of his, Herb Schiff, also served there, and Ashley mentions Herb in his letters. I seemed to recall that he and Herb went to Auburn together, but I wasn't sure. So, I dusted off his Glomeratas and began to flip through them. In one of them--before I uncovered what I was looking for about Herb--I found three old pieces of fabric with a Christmas greeting from 1939--that fateful year in world history. 

The textiles that fell from the "Glom." A.P.I. stands for Alabama Polytechnic Institute, the original name of Auburn University.

They were made in really beautiful colors and they were as fresh as if they had been taken from a loom the day before. What seemed curious to the modern eye is that the design of Auburn's clock tower and the lettering had been woven right into the fabric. Who does that for a holiday greeting unless he owns a textile mill? Then, they had been clipped around the edges with pinking shears. My father was an engineering student. Pinking shears are a tool of the sewing room. Were these supposed to go to his mother for a quilt?

Finally, I thought to call the Auburn archives in Alabama. In my research work I have discovered library archivists are the world's true mystery detectives. They keep a lot of information in their noggins and what they don't keep there they know exactly how to find. They love hearing that you are calling them with a research project!

I reached librarian/archivist Jennifer Wiggins at the Auburn Library Archives, and, once I had emailed her a photo of the textiles, she found the answer in her memory and in files. There had been textile students at Auburn in those days--the South grew a lot of cotton back then--and the textile students had a Jacquard weaving machine. During the days of the Great Depression they used their Jacquard weaver to make Christmas Seals and other textiles, which they sold to help raise money for needy causes. 

Students at Alabama Polytechnic Institute--Auburn University--in 1937, busy at work with their Jacquard loom, creating textiles to help raise money for charity. Photo courtesy of Special Collections & Archives at Auburn University Libraries.

During the Great Depression, this was something very worthwhile to do. Meanwhile, these young students learned the workings of a textile factory. Perhaps some of them had fathers who owned or operated textile mills filled with machines just like the one they were using. Jennifer Wiggins told me there were dozens of mills in the region surrouding Auburn back in those long ago days.

Auburn student at work on the Jacquard loom viewing the 1937 Christmas design. Photo courtesy of Special Collections & Archives at Auburn University Libraries.

My father was a college junior that Christmas, when the world was on the cusp of the biggest war it had even seen. He did not grow up in a rich family and he was always tight with a dollar; but, he was always soft of heart for people in need. Boy Scouts knocked on our door knowing they would have a lucky day. We marveled at this man who hated to part with fifty cents for our allowance or a dollar to buy himself a new tool, but who shared so easily when smiling strangers came to our door. 

And here was the explanation for the textiles tucked in his yearbook 77 years ago. He didn't need those little pieces of fabric, nor did he think about them again after he had donated his money to buy them. His mind was busy with the challenges of the day before him. The textiles were tucked away in his Glomerata and forgotten. Where I could find them so many years later. 

And where I could be reminded once again, that it is not for the things we own or buy, or for the things we say that we will be remembered, but for our deeds. The rest of the stuff will fade, or be tucked away, forgotten, in a book. The deed once done, lasts forever.

Thank you Auburn, for this happy reminder.

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packsaddle said...

So long between posts. Your fans get worried.

Robin Chapman said...

I apologize! I've been writing much more commercial work lately and working on a book, so I've neglected the blog. My resolution for 2017 will be to do a much better job of keeping it going.

Jack said...

Since your father was at Auburn in 1939, maybe he saw President Roosevelt when he visited the campus: http://www.eng.auburn.edu/fall09mag/centennial_au_engineering_p3.html.

Robin Chapman said...

He never mentioned this Jack, I wish I had known. It is hard to imagine that he would not have been there for the event. The funny thing about my father is that he a) rarely talked about himself or things that happened to him and b) lived very much in the present. He also saw Nagasaki at the end of the war but never talked about it until the last year of his life. Each day of his life was filled with a list of things he wanted to get done, books he wanted to read, and things he hoped to accomplish. That is probably a pretty good way to life.