In the beginning — the year Babe Ruth broke the home run record, Albert Einstein won the Nobel Prize and Warren Harding presided over America — the Friday Book Club met on Mondays.
Members took turns hosting the mid-afternoon gatherings, which featured coffee, tea, white-frosted cupcakes topped with a single cherry and, of course, a book.
They called each other missus.
Mrs. Dan Rathbone. Mrs. Carl Bumstead. Mrs. Sam Waugh. Mrs. Dean Schmidt.
Willa Cather’s “My Antonia” had kicked the literary club off in 1921, but it took seven years before the charter members let their hair down enough to call each other Hazel and Mary and Ruby and Augie.
I know this because one of the club’s current members — Sue Lawlor — compiled a four-page history of the club, which included its original bylaws, its constitution (Thank you, Augie), the price of the club’s first of many picnics ($5.36 a couple) and the number of books read: 1,128.
That was nearly 10 years ago, Lawlor said on a fall 2018 book club day, and no one has kept a careful tab since.
“We’re probably nearing 1,500.”
And now they can add one more title to the list: “Killers of the Flower Moon,” by David Grann, which was parsed on the first Friday of November at the home of Patty Pansing Brooks, who was not referred to as missus by her fellow members and whose husband’s name (Loel) was, in fact, never mentioned.
However, Pansing Brooks did hearken to the past, using her mother’s sterling silver serving dishes and the hand-painted plates from Lu Pansing’s own book club days.
“It’s a wonderful thing to host and to bring out stuff that was mother’s and to bring her spirit into this,” Pansing Brooks said as the group gathered in the living room to get down to business.
There is a lot of spirit left in a club that formed on the heels of the 19th Amendment, and where more than half of its readers are second-generation, following in the page-turning steps of their mothers. (They all vote; and one is a state senator.)
On this day, Ann Myers is in charge of the book talk, beginning with a detailed history of the Osage tribe, Oklahoma geography and a recitation of Grann’s biography. (“I come prepared,” Myers warned me ahead of time.)
Each member does things her way, although the official program is generally preceded by chatter.
This month: One member wondering where her book from last month’s meeting was, a smattering of election talk, and a brief discussion of who might be the oldest reader in the bunch. Natalie Olson lays claim to the distinction before changing her mind and pointing to a pair of fellow readers who might top her.
It turns out that Barbara Heckman is the member with the most book club years under her belt — who knows about actual years — and Lawlor is close behind.
Other members know bits and pieces of the club's past.
In the early days of the club, the members simply wrote and read book reports, Kit Dimon says.
“I can’t imagine giving a report to people who hadn’t read the book.”
Yet, she understands it: “It came out of a totally different era, when people didn’t buy books all the time.”
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The women couldn’t order a dozen copies of “Main Street,” by Sinclair Lewis, off the internet, or rely on their library to supply enough John Steinbeck to go around.
Back when Dimon’s mother, Katie Thompson, joined the club, members hosted once a year — and were charged with leading the program and whipping up lunch.
Those days are gone, Dimon said. Thank God.
“It’s much more casual,” she said.
She’s in another book club, but she’s committed to her Friday group, too.
It’s simple: “I really enjoy the people and I really enjoy the books.”
Members now are called to duty just once a year — program-giving or hosting — and left to their own devices on the details.
The original twice-a-month book talks long ago became monthly. Mondays became Fridays. Cupcakes became luncheons (with wine), luncheons became mid-afternoon finger food.
The book reports became discussions.
The club's early members were stalwarts in the community, Pansing Brooks says. Civic-minded women who were interested in the world around them and the worlds inhabited between the pages of a book.
Bess Dodson Walt was one, with a library now named in her memory.
Pansing Brooks followed her mother into membership.
“It’s the connection,” she said. “It seemed important to maintain the connections.”
Natalie Olson keeps the connection to the past inside a book bag at her home, the minutes from long-ago meetings written in slanting cursive in small notebooks whose bindings are held together with rubber bands.
Among them pages and pages of crisp typing paper. A list of books the club had read, compiled by Magenta Thompson in 1964.
She began alphabetically by author with the alliterative Harvey Allen’s “Anthony Adverse” and ending with E.W. White’s “Stuart Little.”
Then, Mrs. George Thompson cross-referenced them alphabetically by title beginning with “The Age of Innocence" by Edith Wharton and hitting the last keys with “The Zinzin Road,” by Fletcher Knebel.
“I hope it will be found useful,” she wrote.
Useful and enduring, just like the book club founded in 1921 by Mrs. Harold (Leota) Wood.
Next month, members of the Friday Book Club will meet for the holidays to celebrate their friendships and to exchange wrapped presents.
All of them will be books.