THE OLD POSTCARDS
A story for Easter 2006
Written by Dick Bernard
April 13, 2006
On occasion, when at the farm, Uncle Vince would bring out an old box which contained a large number of old postcards.
The cards were in random order, and dusty, and we usually had little time to take a look at them. But they were very intriguing. They had likely resided in a bureau drawer, or in Grandma and Grandpas bedroom dresser in the old farmhouse (pictured here at the end of its life in the mid-1990s).
The cards were a keepsake, and a memory. On occasion I'd ask if I could borrow them, but not until mid-winter of 2006 did Vince allow me (probably against his better judgment) to assume custody of them.
I took on the task of reviewing them almost immediately on return home. They were a dusty mess, having gathered North Dakota dust for nigh unto 100 years. But they were fascinating, and even if the dust kicked up my allergy I set about to sort and read them all.
Individually and collectively they told their own story of relationships in the old days.
There were, in that old box, about 300 old postcards. In addition, were a handful of old newspaper clippings, including a long article describing the very first Mass at the brand new St. John's church in Berlin in 1915, and assorted other miscellany.
In the box was a humorous card from August, 1909, quite likely commenting on both my mother's birth, July 27, 1909, and on the apparent guess (Wish? Hope?) that she was to have been a boy, following her sister, Lucina, who was born two years earlier. As it turned out, there were to be two more girls in the family before the first boy, George, was born in 1915.
By category, ranked by numbers of cards found, this is what I found in that box:
111 Christmas cards
The over 100 others were on a potpourri of topics and themes.
54 Easter cards
24 cards with scenes of Dubuque IA
19 Valentine cards
15 cards with scenes of LaMoure ND
One of the cards, dated September, 1914, was of the then-just opened Basilica of St. Mary in Minneapolis. This card, I learned, was one not in the archives of St. Mary's (I made a copy for them). St. Mary's is my church, and I'll usher there on Holy Thursday - today - and again on Easter Sunday, so this card was of particular interest. The note on the card was to my grandfather, and was in German. It had a rather un-ecclesiastical message. The writer informed Grandpa that he had used a dollar to buy a bucket of beer!
The cards were uniformly colorful and conveyed a sense of romance. Many, perhaps most, had nothing written on them, nor evidence of postage having been applied, which suggested they came as an enclosure with a letter in a real envelope. They seemed to basically come from the era of 1910 to 1920, though an occasional card was dated earlier or later, and one - interestingly from my mother, and sent from Dubuque, Iowa, July 11, 1933, showed Davenport, Iowa, from across the Mississippi, and talked of an apparent day-trip there: "We were to Davenport yesterday - Uncle Art & I. Had a fine time. I got a string of Wila Wila seed beads from the Jap. Garden. Also went thru the arsenal museum." Mom's handwriting on the card was unmistakable, as I remembered her handwriting from many letters through her life.
The messages written on these most public of documents were not revealing in themselves - who, the sender likely asked him or her self, would read their contents before they were received! Several were of, and came from, Rochester MN, and obviously related to someone who was hospitalized there with some major ailment.
I saw in the box no cards which seemed specifically related to sympathy or similar. I don't know if that has any meaning or not. Sensitive or painful material may have been destroyed.
The Christmas and Easter cards were of particular interest, primarily because they made up almost half of the collection. These events were obviously important in the family calendar.
It interested me to note that, in this very Catholic family, from an era where basic relationships were often primarily along religious lines - Catholics basically related to other Catholics, etc. - less than 10% of the Christmas cards had what we might consider today to be a religious theme. About 40% of the Easter cards had a religious orientation to them.
The Valentine cards, whether between kids or adults, were gently romantic.
Many cards had some kind of a rural theme: a country house; chickens; a photo of someone seated on a horse drawn plow, etc. One was a photo of a big machine that had collapsed a country bridge. Obviously, no one had thought of weight restrictions! Another picture was of a gigantic railroad snowplow.
I was surprised to find in the box perhaps a dozen cards of what then must have been exotic places which, likely, the sender had never visited. A 1907 card, hand-painted it said, was of the beautiful Japanese park, Hakone. There were single postcards of St. Peter's in Rome, of Niagara Falls, of Constitution Hall in Philadelphia, of the White House in Washington, and so on. Niagara Falls, Lake Louise, the Guildhall in London, the Minnesota State Fair Grounds, all appeared.
The box included an interesting assortment of cartoon cards, including one fascinating one from 1910 obviously unsure about the value of the already looming (and inevitable) women's suffrage, still 10 years in the future.
There were many more stories in that box, left to be told through someone's imagination.
Best wishes for a Happy Easter.
NOTE: About 165 of the photos were scanned and are still accessible in an on-line gallery at gallery.me.com/dick_bernard#100083, entitled Postcards to Ferd and Rosa Busch, Berlin, North Dakota posted March 27, 2006. If not easily accessible there, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org for access to them.