Family and/or Autobiography

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