October in Winona is breathtaking. At that time of year, the bluffs are in full autumn color, so golden and luminous it hurts the eyes to look at them too hard. I had returned. Was it the year after I found the journal? Or was it longer? I can no longer recall. In any event, I was back ostensibly to attend another reunion; but, in reality I wanted to unlock some small part of the mystery it was my mission to solve, to wit: What happened to Evie? What happened to her friends? The Winona Public Library is an imposing, domed building standing at the corner of 5th and Johnson Street, and that is where I began my search.
On the second floor of the library stood a statue of Hebe, the daughter of Zeus and Hera, an original work by Antonio Canova. As the cupbearer of the gods on Mount Olympus, Hebe has always personified the beauty of youth. It seemed somehow fitting that she should be standing there, one hand raised high holding a pitcher, the other hand lower, holding a cup. The beauty of youth... and beyond. That was the story I was trying to tell.
Just outside the room where Hebe resided, and tucked under the domed ceiling, was a mural painted by Kenyon Cox called The Light of Learning. As it is described by others, "in the center, robed in the green of eternal youth and wearing a decorative modification of the shield of Minerva, sits Learning, lighting her torches..." To the right sits Romance, to the left Philosophy. History writes on her tablet, and Science holds a globe and compass. The mural was donated by William Hayes as a tribute to his wife. I wondered how many countless times Evie and her friends looked up at that mural and if they had ever considered its meaning.
Viola: Does she really need to go into all of this? Why doesn't she just get on with it?
Evelyn: Viola, be patient and let the child tell the story in her own way. You were always trying to run things.
Viola: Well, at least when I ran things, they ran! Don't forget, I was editor-in-chief of the Hi-News.
Evelyn: Now, how could I possibly forget that.
Grad: Ladies, please hush. It's difficult enough piecing this story together without interruption. You'll just have to trust me.
Evelyn: Go ahead, dear. Continue.
Grad: Now, where was I?
Evelyn: The library, dear
Oh, right. Finding nothing helpful in the library, I wandered back into the rough October afternoon. Dusk was approaching and the light was the kind of steely gray that blooms slowly, then fades into twilight. I walked down to Third Street then toward Main and I saw what I thought might be the little antique store where I had found Evelyn's book a year (or several) before. Tingaling went the little shop bell as I stepped inside. Yes. It was the very same place. And back there was the rack, and down there was the shelf.
The still-dusty shelf contained old magazines, and almanacs, and city directories. The directories might prove helpful, I thought, and I tried to find something dating back to the 1920s. The oldest were from the 70s, and did not contain any of the last names for which I searched. Another dry hole. But...wait. Two odd looking volumes bound in dark green paper, pebbled to resemble faux leather, sat side by side, one shelf up.
Do you believe in destiny? Or fate? Or divine providence? Or perhaps a soft whisper in your ear which you cannot explain, telling you to look here, or look there? As incredible as it sounds, I reached for the first volume and stared in silent disbelief as I read the inscription, "WHS 1924." What I was holding in my hands was the high school annual for the Class of 1924. Evelyn's class.
The owner of the annual had written her name inside on the bookplate. "This is Esther's book," I said softly to myself. I recognized her name from some of the school newspaper articles in the journal. At the top of page 8, I saw my first clear picture of Evelyn. "So this is you." It was a pretty face, oval, with soft eyes. A flip of the page, and there was Viola. Viola - serious, determined and beautiful. A little saying went along with her picture, "To do her best in every way, Keeps Viola busy all the day."
Excitement building, I hastily turned page after page. "They are all here, they are all here!" There's Duffy, Pearl, and Mr. Henry. Here's Lucille dressed as Puck in A Midsummer's Night Dream, and Lucille and Earl leading the Grand March into the prom, "artistically decorated with Japanese lanterns and brightly colored streamers...." Mr. Bowe getting carried down the length of a hall on the shoulders of a group of rooting boys on Jinx Day, and the Buck-Schott trio providing music at the Basket Ball Banquet. I was particularly captivated by Duffy. If I had been a member of the Class of 1924, I would surely have been in love with him. Although the strange thought crossed my mind that, at one and the same time, he was both younger than my children and older than my father.
Evelyn: You're right. That is very odd. You are stuck right in the middle, aren't you, dear? Duffy was the cat's pajamas.
Viola: Duff had very nice looking legs, don't you think, Evie?
Evelyn: Oh, yes. And he was such a lovely dancer; could he cut a rug!
Viola: Do you remember, "Barney Google, with those goo-goo-googely eyes."
Evelyn: (Laughing...and whispering something into Vi's ear.)
Viola: Oh, Ev, you are naughty.
Grad: Ahem, if you please...
The last dozen pages of the yearbook were devoted to advertisements from local businesses, and it was over these pages that Esther's friends wrote notes of congratulations and promises to "always remember the great time we had in short and type class," or "will never forget the fun we had in Pen and Spelling," or "fond memories of those fudge parties in Commercial Club" or the one that made me cry. It began, "Sweetest angel child, I've the whole back page to myself to tell you how much I love you...."
The yearbook had not been Evie's, but it really didn't matter. The other green covered yearbook book was from the Class of 1926. I bought them both (one just never knows). So, at last the friends that populated Evelyn's diary had faces to go with the names; and, what was true for me before was made even more compelling with this new find. I now felt connected to these young men and women. I was sharing their past. I sought their future. I began my search in earnest little knowing how long it would take. There was no turning back.
Now, at last, you have all the background information necessary for me to continue. I am pleased to present to you two people of whom I am most fond. I shall begin with Viola.
Viola: Well, are we there at last? I think perhaps this tale could use some rather ruthless editing. Did I mention I was editor-in-chief of the Hi-News?
Evelyn: Viola, we've been friends all our lives - and then some. So I hope you will not be offended if I ask you to please put a sock in it.
Viola: For your information, I'm perfectly capable of telling my own story. I just hope she gets it right (her hands fluttering in agitation.) (Pause) Did you say beautiful?
Grad: I most certainly did; and, you most certainly were.
Evelyn: (to Grad) Proceed, Oh Troubadour.
Grad: First I have to catch my breath - and pour a nice stiff drink.
I turned my back and heard a definite, "Harumph."