A Wealth of Memories - A Chance Discovery, and the Generosity of Robin Lester

Our library receives donations weekly from many thoughtful people. Some of the material is added to the library’s collection. Most items are sold at our annual and holiday book sales, and proceeds go to support library programming. Donations are placed in our annex where they are sorted, boxed, and labeled into categories. It was here that I came upon something unexpected.

As I stacked donated books, a slip of paper fell from a worn copy of the renowned autobiography, Life and Times of Frederick Douglass. I lifted from the floor newsprint, yellowed with age and folded several times over, hidden from view and likely forgotten long ago. The date of publication was Wednesday, November 16, 1977. It was a page torn from The Washington Star. As I unfolded the paper a photograph of three women was revealed. “They treasure Frederick Douglass’s heritage” was printed beneath this image in bold type. The women pictured in the article were descendants of Frederick Douglass. One of the women, Fanny Douglass, met the elder Frederick Douglass when he spoke at a church in Atlanta, Georgia, sometime before his death in 1895. She would one day marry his grandson. Fanny, at the time this piece was written, was 94 years old. She no longer recalled the words of Frederick Douglass but retained the sound of his voice, saying, “It was vibrant, rich and penetrating.” Frederick Douglass was a great man who tragically had been born a slave, a part of our nation’s history that should never have been. In autumn of 2018, Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom by David W. Blight was published by Simon & Schuster and became one of the “top ten” books of the year according to TIME magazine and the Chicago Tribune. Interest in this exceptional person who persevered despite monumental obstacles will continue for generations to come. How wonderful it would have been if Fanny Douglass had remembered the words of Frederick Douglass and if these words appeared within a book – a book not just about his life, but of her own that was of enduring importance.

At the Pawling Library there is a very special program that takes place on the first Wednesday of each month. The program, “From Memory to Family Memoir,” is nearing its tenth year. It was conceived by Dr. Robin Lester, author and former headmaster of the Trinity School in New York City. The description of the program reads, in part: “Each of us has a wealth of memories.” This is true. Dr. Lester helps us capture and preserve our stories. This is a beautiful gift that he gives to the seniors in our community. Dr. Lester will be aiding us further by leading a discussion on Saturday, April 27, starting at 2:00 p.m. at the Holmes Whaley Lake Civic Association. At this interactive event, he’ll be speaking to young people who have participated in our American Essay Contest.

The autobiography of Frederick Douglass has been read by people around the world. The famous often write about their lives, but they aren’t the only ones entitled to do so. Each of us has a wealth of memories that need not be lost and forgotten in time. Dr. Robin Lester helps us to save our personal histories. Share your memories as a written legacy that will be treasured by those most important in your life: your family and friends whom you love and who love you.

Donald Partelow is the adult programming coordinator at Pawling Library.