You can also learn about a person by the pieces of paper, newspaper clippings, and other ephemera they've stashed in books, or that have fallen to the bottom of the 20 year old cardboard box marked "Winter hats and scarves 1983"
Meet the Starr* family.
I say "family" because I didn't just get one life history today, I got at least two. After sorting through their discarded books and papers, I feel like I know the Starrs. Or at least, know enough about them to have a sense of their history. I certainly know they didn't throw books out very often.
* (named changed)
Gene Starr went to an Ivy League school and wrote his name and address in most of his textbooks. Seeing all his books from the late 30's, looking at some of his typed Chemistry assignments, we know that he was in the Class of 1938, and studied chemical engineering. Book titles included 1932's "Notes on mechanical drawing" and books with formulas, tables, etc.
Someone named Henry Starr went to the same Ivy League school as Gene. He left the brown paper
bookcovers from the University bookstore on his textbooks. His textbooks include a french dictionary, economics, and world history. He didn't write his name inside his books, but on the covers. Can't tell when/if Henry graduated- we don't have many of his books, or at least, ones that we can be reasonably sure are his from the 50-60 year old brown paper suprisingly intact bookcovers.
Stuck in here somewhere is a program for the "Inspirational service for the class of 1939" for the Public High School in Atlantic City NJ. This item intrigues me- it looks like some sort of commencement program. The Starr brothers didn't go to college in NJ, but perhaps a future Starr wife grew up there? How'd they meet? I know Gene married, but Henry remains mysterious.
Some artifacts from Gene's post college life:
a 1941 first aid manual from the Office of Civil Defense
a 1950 cocktail mixing guide- published by "true, the Man's magazine"
A marriage manual called "Our sex life" by Fritz Kahn copyright 1944
a 1948 reference manual on how to use a slide rule
"The Sex habits of american women" by Fritz Wittels copyright 1951
"If you marry outside your faith: counsel on mixed marriages" 1954
I don't find it weird that Gene has two marriage manuals. I do find it weird that they're both by men named "Fritz". And is the mixed marriages book indicitive of the mysterious Mrs. Starr? From his last name and the first name of his daughter, I suspect he might be Jewish. But I know Gene got married at least 4 years before 1954.
I don't know when Gene married or had his first kid, but his daughter Leah's 1953 kindergarten report card/progress report is here for us to see. Leah's doing well, but needs to be careful about attendance if she is to advance into 1st grade.
An envelope postmarked 1959 to "Mr. and Mrs Gene Starr and Leah" yields no more clues to the first name of Leah's mom. They know someone in Los Angeles, though.
We'll get to Leah in a second. Mr and Mrs. Starr's consuming passion appears to be Contract Bridge. There are almost a dozen "improving your bridge game" paperbacks in the haul, as well as a plastic solo bridge device with card overlays and levers that allow you to play bridge hands when by yourself and without cards. This game is still in the box and doesn't appear to have been used much, but as you're seeing, the Starrs don't throw a lot away.
What's Leah's early life like?
"The Bobbsey Twins in Eskimo Land". "Cherry Ames, Senior Nurse". "Trixie Belden, Girl Detective". These were formulaic series books for girls, similar to Nancy Drew. At least one of these series was published/ghostwritten by the Nancy Drew folks.
"What teenagers want to know" (a Doctor's Pamphlet about menstruation and such) from 1962
"The Seventeen book of young living" 1961
"The facts of life and love for teen-agers" by Evelyn Mills Duvall -1957. Thrift store shoppers will probably recognize the title, as it was extremely popular in its day and many copies are still floating around.
The teen novel "Girl Trouble", which I remembered from here.
Note the special irony that GT the band is based in Tacoma, and young Leah Starr grew up in Tacoma, and for all I know, still lives here.
1962 Barrons "How to prepare for college entrance exams" (IE the SAT)
It seems a bit weird to me that you'd be taking the SAT concurrent with getting puberty/menstration pamphlets from the doctor or school nurse, but I guess it's probably true that 1) people didn't talk about that stuff until it was happening, and not years before like now 2) girls mature faster with each generation. I remember getting my first period in 6th or 7th grade, and that by 8th grade, pretty much everyone but the anorexics had started menstruating. And the SAT wasn't until 10th or 11th grade.
Anyway, Leah got her period and went to college.
Artifacts from Leah's college years:
UC Berkeley catalog 1967-68
An August 1968 UCB orientation letter for transfer and returning students.
TONS of undergrad sociology/social welfare books. Like her dad, Leah writes her name and address on the inside of each book. Interestingly, Leah lives in a dorm that shares her last name.
Leah's curriculm shares the turbulence of the times. LOTS about the problems of youth, the Negro, city life, etc. No lie, there were at least 50 books like:
"The Vietnam reader", "The College Drug Scene", "Tally's corner; a study of negro streetcorner men (1967)", "It's happening- a portrait of the youth scene today (1966)". There's also a fair amount on political theory, foreign policy, communism, "the future of the Soviet Union", etc. There were also other books that it was hard to know if they were pleasure or school reading, such as "the Call of the Wild" and "The Making of the President 1960". Aside from "Giant" (made into a James Dean movie) and a John O'Hara book, Leah didn't seem to own much popular fiction. Maybe she was active in lefty campus stuff and didn't have time to read anything other than her class books? Maybe she went to Woodstock!
Sadly, after Leah's socially conscious college career, we've got some scattered info about the Starr family, but solid conclusions can no longer be made.
A clipping from the New York Times from 11-26-73: "Lights of rotterdam blaze defiance of arabs embargo", stuffed in the bottom of the box.
A 1973 letter about membership in the WA Society of professional engineers (This belongs to Dad, I think).
About a dozen books from the early eighties about Apple Computers, especially manuals on Assembly Language for Apple. These could belong to:
-Gene the engineer, now in his mid to late sixties
-Leah, who could have decided to throw out her Berkeley Social Science background to become a Leet Haxx0r at the ripe old age of 35? (admittedly this seems the least plausible)
-Leah's son? I don't know that she married and bred, but if she graduated (or quit) college around 1970-1971 and got married, she could have a 13 year old son in 1983, which at the time would have been a typical Apple Assembler hobbyist. If he (or she) exists, Leah's child did not inherit the Starr gene for writing one's name and address in a book.
The most recent item in the boxes was a Fodor's Travel guide to New York from 1990.
In my fantasy world, Mr. and Mrs Gene, Leah and her husband, and Leah's 20 year old son all went on a family vacation to NYC together. The adults played Contract Bridge at night while young Haxx0r Son went nightclubbing. While walking through Central Park, son and Gramps made math jokes, and when they all got back to Tacoma, Gene gave his grandson his old slide rule. 12 years later, Leah's son still has it, along with his beloved Apple II+. Even though he's got a different last name, Leah's son is a Starr, and you know, they hardly ever throw anything away.