Friday, November 13, 2009

A Book Lost, and Found

As an elementary school student I recall vaguely a field trip to The Indianapolis Children's Museum. I don't remember the details clearly, but have an image of the space I was in, including the huge model of a dinosaur. At the time I would have visited, the museum would not have been what it is today at all. My visit would have taken place at the same site, but at that time the museum would have been housed in the St. Clair Parry mansion. There are some books around that travel the history of the museum and it is pretty fascinating in that it really began with one woman's vision. She was Mary Stewart Carey, a civic and social leader who had the vision and inspired the founding of the museum in 1925. It was originally housed in an old carriage house on the near north side, in the Garfield Park shelter house, and then in the actual home of Mary Stewart Carey from 1927 to 1946. After that it moved to the site where it is now located, but was housed in the St. Clair Parry mansion, eventually demolished and replaced by the current building, which has also been expanded and improved.

Some time later in my elementary school, fourth grade to be specific, my teacher (Mrs. Mary McCarty) gave me a book as a prize. Inside she wrote a dedication to me as the winner of the good citizenship award. That meant so much to me. She was a pretty strict, conservative teacher and it was my favorite grade. One of the things that stands out in my memory is the unit of study we did on Switzerland. We had a celebration and had hot chocolate, tasted chocolate from Switzerland, etc. It was much like what today would be called a project based or virtual learning experience; given that this would have been in the mid 60's, she was a teacher ahead of her time no doubt.

You may be wondering how the two paragraphs above are related. I'll continue. As it happens, I kept the book into my college years. I finished school, got married, started my family, and went back to school to earn an education degree. I ended up working part time at the Children's Museum coordinating birthday parties in the computer lab on weekends. One weekend I went to the gift shop and picked up a history of the children's museum. As I read it I learned about a woman, Grace Golden, who directed the museum from 1942 to 1964. It mentioned a children's book she had written, Seven Dancing Dolls. It was then it hit me that this was the book my fourth grade teacher awarded to me and that it should be around somewhere. It was no doubt out of print, and I'd like to be sure I kept it as a keepsake and collectible. (My passion for children's books was already there, even before I was actually teaching...thanks to my mother.) To be sure I went to Central Library and it was listed as being in the rare book room. I was allowed to go to that room to see it (it was a noncirculating book), but the librarian discovered that it was missing. That's a shame. I don't know if they ever found it.

I asked my mom to look around and she said I could come over and check the boxes in the attic. I never found it. Then I thought perhaps it had gotten mixed up with a former roommate's possessions and contacted her. She couldn't recall it either. Whatever happened to it, it disappeared. I did start looking for another copy though and eventually ran onto one from a rare book seller somewhere. I didn't pay too much, probably no more than $20 but it was worth it to me. The copy I have, the one you see above, is in excellent shape. It has the dust jacket intact and is library quality but with no stamping or marks anywhere. Regretfully, it isn't the one my teacher inscribed to me, but it still holds the memory for me.

Grace Golden wrote the book as a result of a year she spent in Poland studying museums. Her story takes place in Poland when it was divided. It is about a little princess who lived in a palace. Whenever her father would travel, he would bring this princess a present. One present was a set of tiny dolls. When the dolls were placed on a piano and the piano was played, the vibration would make the dolls dance. The princess gave all the dolls names, and one of them was named for Frederic Chopin after visiting and playing the piano for the princess and her family. When he left, one of the dolls accidentally fell into his pocket. Eventually he returned the doll to her along with some special music he wrote for her...her very own waltz called "The Waltz of the Seven Dancing Dolls." It is really a sweet story; perhaps not a classic or famous or well known, but it holds such memories and meaning for me and it has some historical significance, at least locally.

So this is just a little story of an experience with a book, and how it wove itself in and out of my life, and back in again; how I lost it and found it again (albeit not the original), and in doing so reconnected with a very important memory in my life.

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