Boxes of Family History
If the boxes of cards I’ve found squirreled away in my house are any indication, my family has been supporting the greeting card industry for over 80 years . My family also seems to have an insane need to save all of them. Tuesday morning I thought this practice was crazy as I faced down 3 bankers boxes of greeting cards saved by my Grandmother and then those also saved by my own Mother over the years. Part of me just wanted to take the boxes to the paper retriever at the school and be done with them all, put ‘em towards the $20 per ton the school gets on paper recyclables. I even started to put them in a trash bag – some things are just daunting and as this entire house is filled with boxes that need gone through, at first glance it looks like just a lot of paper – but I stopped. Then I thought “hmm, wonder if any of those are worth anything on eBay?” Looked on eBay and apparently yep, there are people who love old greeting cards.
So, yesterday I sat down with my boxes lined up to go through. What a treasure of family history and a really neat glimpse into the past and how the people in my family showed their affection for one another. The oldest greeting card I found in there was from when my Grandmother and Grandfather were dating in 1928, she was 18 years old and apparently she was Andy’s Sweet Tootsie Wootsie. There are dozens of cards in there that they gave to each other over the years. They showed a great affection for each other, not only in the cards they chose for each other, but in the hand written messages that are inside these beautiful and sometimes crumbling pages.
My Grandmother, who I am named after, kept them all. The cards from her siblings, from her friends, from her parents, her kids, her husband, from her grand kids and great-grandkids. She kept not only cards that were addressed to her, but also those to the rest of the family in that house on Chester Ave. in McKeesport. There are cards and post cards from her brother Stan who died in World War II, one very sweet Birthday card he sent to my Mom, his Goddaughter, and I will keep that one forever. Some had notes in them, some had clippings, a few old recipes and photographs accompany them as well.
Some are from and between my Mom and her brothers. Apparently bathroom humor on greeting cards is nothing new, and always funny to brothers wishing their sibling a happy birthday. Some are appallingly politically incorrect looking at them from 2012 but were not seen as such in the 1940s. A Happy Birthday Dad card with “Honest Injun You Great!” me laugh after I recovered from my jaw dropping.
As I made my way through the boxes the feeling that my family always enjoyed humorous cards was very evident. While there are plenty of the usual sentimental cards expressing love and caring and appreciation that the card companies depend on to stay in business it was apparent that my family has always enjoyed laughter and laughing with and at each other. One of my favorites from the early/mid 1950s is from my Great Aunt Alice to her sister Eleanor my Grandmother. It says “Live it up on Your Birthday Sister, and don’t worry about ruining the family reputation” inside is says “I did that years ago”. Those ladies have been taken from us and it so nice to see how fun and playful with were in years past.
As the years went on and the cards were mailed to my grandparents from the places their children scattered to over the years, post cards were kept with the cards, as the grandchildren were born, as my Grandfather passed away, as great grandchildren came along she kept them all. As the cards changed, the paper used changed, the sizes grew, the sentiment was still the same and more than half still showed that great sense of humor that flows through the family. As I got to the third box I found that they were mostly cards that my own Mom had kept over the years, I remembered sending so many of them to her and laughed at the ones my oldest brother managed to find and send – he always finds the “best” cards. I’m so glad I went through the boxes, it is still a lot of paper but paper is where we tend to find family history.
The task of going through the quite literally 100s of boxes of ‘stuff’ here in this house is quite daunting and many people have suggested just getting a roll off and pitching so much of it – and yes, a lot of what is here probably just needs to go, in either the trash or on eBay – old warped pots and pans, dull knives, broken coffee percolators and more I have to take the time to go through these boxes because for every box of “stuff” there seems to be one or two treasures in there. And these boxes of cards held a lot of treasure in them.