Card, Catalogued

postcard of factoryI loathe clutter. I am always the person in my house to say, “Time to clean out! Throw it away or give it away! I don’t care what you do with it, as long as it’s gone!”

My family accuses me of taking this to extremes – and maybe I do. I have been caught trying to donate toys that my son is currently playing with and clothes my wife is currently wearing.

But I can get sentimental, too. Once in a while I’ll look at one of my possessions and think, “I will never, ever, in a million-jillion years, give this up.”

Shortly after my grandpa passed away, Mom gave me a stack of his old postcards. I was faintly familiar with them. I remembered seeing them in the bottom of his desk drawer during one of my semi-regular childhood snooping sessions. I never paid the postcards much mind, however, as they were stuffed underneath a distracting stack of ancient men’s magazines that featured models who looked like Ethel Mertz.

But now that the postcards had my undivided attention, I was in love.

My favorite is the card at the top of this post, a depiction of The Draper Company Works, a weaving loom factory in Hopedale, Massachusetts. In terms of architectural ugliness only parking garages are more of an eyesore than factories, yet the illustrator did a stellar job in making the facility look crisp, clean, and pristine. I especially love the faint wisp of smoke apologetically creeping into the brilliant azure sky. It is industrialization at its most Utopian, as seen through beer goggles and a generous slathering of Vaseline.

As much as I love the picture, it is what’s written on the back that makes the postcard a beloved keepsake. Most of the postcards in grandpa’s desk were blank, but this one is a window into my family’s history.

Dated July 21, 1926, it is a letter from my great-grandmother, who was visiting her mother in Upton, Massachusetts, to my great-grandfather, who remained home in Little Falls, New Jersey.

I never knew either one of my great-grandparents. My great-grandpa was long dead by the time I came on the scene. Great-grandma was alive, but my family never visited her. This led me to believe that she was either nasty or bonkers or both.

But that’s neither here nor there; this postcard, written almost 90 years ago and only a few lines long, opens a window into my great-grandma’s mind and soul. I never met her, but I feel I know her.

It reads as follows:

Dear James,

Just a few lines to let you know I feel terrible this morning. My whole body shakes. I scared Mr. Felton and Mama. They thought I was dying. Oh, the gas is killing me. Lastly, that’s all I care to write this morning.

With love from me and the children,

Emily

This card tells me many things. First of all, it explains why great-grandpa didn’t go on vacations with great-grandma. I can just picture him reading this card from the comfort of his home in Little Falls thinking, “Thank God I’m here!”

The card also shows that great-grandma wasn’t one to suffer in silence. When she had gas (and, boy, did she!), she was going to make sure everyone knew about it – not only Mama and Mr. Felton (whoever he is), but also her mailman. That was just the way she rolled.

But the most remarkable thing about the card is this: No one ever threw it out. My great-grandpa kept the card and passed it down to his son. And then my grandpa, in his infinite wisdom, held onto it for his entire life.

And now I have it. And you can bet your butt that I’m keeping it for the rest of my life, too. Mom gave me this postcard for a reason, I think; she knew I was the only one in the family who would appreciate its importance. Only I would make sure it was properly archived and kept safe.

And when I die, I will bequeath it to my grandchildren, for I feel it is my duty to let them know that, on one fateful summer day in 1926, their great-great-great-grandmother had a terrible – almost lethal – case of the farts.

postcard back

129 thoughts on “Card, Catalogued

  1. This is why it frightens me when school systems decide they will no longer teach cursive. If kids do not learn how to write in cursive, they will not learn how to read this lovely script. And if our grandchildren must rely on the translations of prior generations, who knows how many unique and poignant messages like this one will be lost or misconstrued? Long live cursive!
    p.s. And now there is a second site in MA that you must visit on your next Northeast tour!

  2. It’s comforting to know that I’m not the only one that has a stash of old postcards and letters. I really enjoy reading them and trying to put myself into the writer’s frame of mind.
    I only wish I had a little more of your discipline to clear our clutter . . . it’s very difficult for me to let go of “things”. Maybe I should just let you loose in my basement with a box of trash bags!

  3. Passing that down sounds like a family treasure. Though I do hope you’re keeping it in some sort of protective plastic. Postcards get worn pretty quickly.

  4. Haha! Little did she know at the time she wrote it that one day it would be front and center on an Internet blog. You’ve brought her back to life in this post, and gas or not, that’s pretty cool!

  5. I, too, detest clutter. I am so glad you were passed this keepsake/memory. The art of writing shall continue on through you. I have a blank postcard that I recently received with a sample of perfume. This has given me funny ideas for what to write on it. We need to know who Mr. Felton is!

  6. I’m sure your g-grandmother is pleased as punch to be front and center in this discussion. That postcard symbolizes the hilarity bone that’s being passed down through the generations. You’re doing it justice.

    Oh, and the scatological humor? This post helps me understand why you can’t quite help yourself. The unseemliness lies in that long line of genes you inherited from the Great Gaseous One.

  7. I just spent a very stressful weekend caring for my sister in law after surgery. Needless to say gas was the dominating force leading to her discharge. While I’m sitting in the airport waiting to go home reading your post, I couldn’t help but laugh out loud. I will be sharing this post with my sister in law, who knows I may even get a post card of my own. Thanks for this post!!

  8. Ha! “Models who looked like Ethel Mertz!” Love that line. I have a boxful of old letters exchanged between my mom and my uncle. I even have the one where she told him she was pregnant with me! Not one word about gas problems but a few about morning sickness.

  9. What a funny letter. I am pretty sure I don’t have any fart post cards in my collection of letters and cards…but I haven’t finished going through them all so who knows, I may be writing my own fart post soon. 😀

    It really is funny that this was one of the saved treasures that was handed down.

  10. Mike, I think your grandfather stayed home specifically due to his need to pass on the gas 😉 I just love hearing about stuff like this ’cause there’s nothing like that old stuff 🙂

  11. Love stinks, and often in a very literal way.
    I have to admit this is the romantic way my husband and I talk to each other. Once I called to him from the bathroom, “Rob, you got to see this–” On second thought, I think that story is too personal.
    This is sort of like how my grandpa always showed me his love by pulling his dentures out slowly so the gummy streaks hung from his teeth in a Mumm-ra kind of way. (wouldn’t a gross grandpa be fabulous in a PB??)

  12. Oh this is wonderful, and you have now preserved it on your blog too! I loathe clutter and yet I’m terrible at getting rid of things, so I have much more clutter in my house than I want! I yearn for minimalism. These handwritten old things are just wonderful aren’t they, definitely to be preserved. I wonder if future generations will find things that I’ve written and talk about how precious it is 🙂

  13. I hope you are now deciding to send postcards to family members and good good friends (even good blogging friends). I love snail mail. I love to send cards and postcards. I am much more careful than your great grandmother on what I say in said postcards, but I sure hope my words are wise and witty enough to be passed on generation to generation. However, if my great grandson uses it for an international e-post, he better say something really really nice about me. If not, I will send him to great-grandson purgatory, where he will meet you, and together, maybe, you two can come up with a way to make it up to heaven. Maybe by creating poems about how wonderful great grandmothers are, even those with bad gas and who stand in tree pose in grocery store lines.

    • Pam, you know I think the world of you, but If you choose to do tree poses in the check out lane, you deserve to be relentlessly teased by your great grandchildren.

      Don’t blame me. I don’t make the rules, I just follow them.

  14. I love the story as always! What a fun memento to have! I commend you on your resistance to throw them out! 🙂
    Do you have any idea how hard postcards are to find? My 6 year old niece called me last year and asked if I would please send her a postcard from TX for a class project. She lives in KY. “Not a problem!” I exclaimed. “I will put one in the mail tomorrow!” HA! Not only could I not find a postcard within a 30 mile range that said anything about the great country (ahem) State of Texas, I couldn’t find ANY postcards. I literally had to drive over 30 miles away to find what I wanted and send it her way 3!!! days later! Anyhoo… I then enlisted friends from all over the country including Alaska, (cuz I love my niece and I am an awesome aunt lol) as well as a friend from England! It was a cool thing to do, and she became one of the most popular project leaders. It is sad, but alas the postcard has become a thing of the past! 😦

  15. I love postcards; the pictures and the brief (usually) “love you, mum” messages at the back. This post had me in stitches though, it seems one could use a postcard as a medical report form too. Your great grandma was either a very bold woman or had such a special relationship with great grandpa. I don’t think I could send hubby dearest a whatsapp about the subject (see, I can’t even right the word =D )
    Thanks for sharing Mike 🙂

  16. How word come back and haunt you…more than tombstone messages. The words chosen can tell a lot about a person….or continue a long running family joke (that the writer may not be aware of even?)
    Old post cards are cool, though. People hang onto them for some reason- is it the written message, the picture, or the fact/thought someone decided to take time and mail it to you?

  17. This is so hilarious. There should be an award for best family heirloom ever! I read this to my girlfriends as we were all going to sleep in a hotel room. Bad idea, because we all got the giggles and the gas jokes went on far into the night.

    I especially love grammy’s last line about not caring to write anything further. It is priceless.

  18. DUDE, that is such an awesome story! I would love to have something like that. I would never get rid of it. I’m a neat freak too, but definitely sentimental when it comes to certain things.

    My aunt is a hoarder (like, for real) and she used to live with my grandmother, who passed away a couple of years ago. The amount of history and secrets hiding in that house are going to be interesting to explore one day. I’ll probably have an entire year’s worth of blogging material.

    Also, I think every last line should be about farts. 🙂

    • While I can’t stand having junk in my house, I do so love perusing other people’s junk. I spent the better part of my childhood rummaging around in my relatives’ basements and attics, marveling at the fascinating (and often dangerous) stuff that I came across.

      Happy hunting!

  19. I’m one for throwing out junk too but that’s definitely a treasure you’ve found there. A great piece of family memorabilia to pass on to future generations. The message she wrote and your post made me laugh.

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