Lying on my desk is an old autograph book. The binding is threadbare, the cover cracked and worn, but it tells a story of love and hope. I open it gently, reverently, afraid that it will crumble in my hands. It’s not filled with autographs, it’s filled with pictures of birds.
I love this book—it’s a tangible connection to a man I’ve never met…my maternal grandfather. His name was Sophus, and he died before my mother was two years old. He was young, vibrant, charismatic and loved by everyone who knew him.
Looking through the book last night, I realized that I could lift each picture part way and read the back. Each card has a short description of the bird species on the front. After the description, there’s a statement: Series of 100. Issued by Imperial Tobacco Company of Canada Limited.
I was so surprised and wondered where the cards had come from. Researching online, I learned that tobacco companies used trade cards for advertising. Did my grandfather chew tobacco or smoke cigarettes? Or did my grandmother collect the cards while managing the small, country store they owned? It’s hard for me to picture my grandfather smoking—he made the book while staying in a sanatorium…he had tuberculosis.
When I hold the book, I hold the hope of a man who wanted to be home with his wife and daughter. A man who loved nature, fishing, hunting, freedom. He was a Montanan, born and raised in the most beautiful area I’ve ever known. His love for life took him home, against his doctor’s wishes. I don't know if staying in the sanatorium would have saved his life—I do know that it was killing his spirit.
I have a degree in biology and avidly love nature—I think my grandfather and I would have enjoyed each other’s company. This old, tattered, beautiful book connects me to him in a way nothing else ever has. He’s buried at the base of the Rocky Mountains—my grandmother is with him now, after 60 years of separation.
Fifteen of the bird series are missing from the autograph book. I don’t know if Sophus died before he collected them all, or if he just lost hope. Maybe someday I can finish the book for him…