Pumpkin Power: Embossed Antique Postcards

Do you send Hallowe’en cards? Judging from the racks of greeting cards in stores these days, many people do.

Stores selling Hallowe’en costumes and party gear are now occupying vacated commercial space. October issues of magazines offer decorating ideas including “Boo-tiful” tablescapes. The current Better Homes and Gardens special edition (2016) displays patterns for creative pumpkin carving.

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This magazine, founded in 1922, was not even in circulation when my Grandma Longenecker received these postcards, this one an invitation from cousin Lulu, mailed from the Mount Joy, PA post office in October 1908.

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Another one with a more spooky vibe (freakish cats setting ghostly pumpkins airborne) requests that Fannie “Bring refreshments.”

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halloweenpostcardrefreshments

The venue is John Ebersole’s barn in Kingston, PA. The date: Tuesday, October 31, 1911. According to Google Maps, Kingston is 112 miles from Middletown, Fannie Martin’s hometown.

By car, in this century it would take about 2 hours. Did Grandma Fannie attend? Was her transportation horse and buggy or a Model T Ford that was in production as early as 1908? It could have been Model A Ford manufactured in 1903 – 1904. And I wonder how refreshments would fare during the long trip?

I am pleased to have access to such family artifacts, but I have to speculate about so many details surrounding the events.

Grandma would have known, but she’s not here any more, so I can’t ask her. I can live out my days not knowing details about a minor, but interesting, event. If I devised a story from this event, I’d have to indulge in “perhapsing,” a creative non-fiction technique I discussed in this post.

Still, I’m curious!


What artifacts have stoked your curiosity about family events of long ago?

How do you fill in the gaps when details are vague or absent?


Coming next: Are you are with-it?

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A Glorious Fourth, 1909 Style and a Memoir Tip

Would you pass up an invitation to a lawn soirée on a holiday weekend? This week 107 years ago my grandma, Miss Fanny Martin, then a single woman, received a penny postcard invitation to such a gathering on July 3, 1909.

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Mary Elizabeth Kob writes in neat cursive: “You are heartily invited to attend a Lawn Soirée July 3, 1909 in honor of Jacob S. Kob at his home. Meet 7:30. Refreshments. Respectfully, Mary Elizabeth Kob.” I assume my grandmother attended the party.

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From my vantage point in the 21st century, it’s hard to piece together the details. Was Mary Elizabeth Jacob’s wife, daughter, or sister? Based on the name alone, it’s hard to tell. Was the occasion a combination birthday and Fourth of July celebration? If so, the emphasis may have been on the national holiday judging from the red, white, and blue postcard colors.

Leo Kob was the only “Kob” name familiar to me when I was growing up in Elizabethtown, Pennsylvania. Leo, whom I heard my parents refer to as “Kobbie,” owned a G. E. Oil and Gas Heating business in Elizabethtown, a family business that boasted the phrase “Since 1904” in a page in my high school yearbook. Maybe Leo bought or inherited the business from his grandfather or father. Was Leo related to Jacob? A search of genealogical records could prove or disprove any relationship.

Yes, excavating one’s family history leads to questions, some without clear answers.

Piecing together fragments of family history requires a measure of conjecture and speculation. Therefore, when one reaches the limits of family history and historical record, what happens next? Memoir writers can use a technique known as “perhapsing,” a tool for supplying detail in a scene when memory is unreliable or when facts are simply missing. According the writer Lisa Knopp, “The word perhaps cues the reader that the information [the writer] is imparting is not factual but speculative.” Because deviating too far from fact could result in fiction, life story writers have a tight rope to balance here. Yet “perhapsing” used sparingly or a well-placed “it might have been” can occasionally provide motivation and action, adding richness and complexity to the narrative.

Knowing about Leo Kob and his family is not critical to my own memoir writing, but writing about the details of my visit to New York City to distribute gospel tracts as a young Mennonite girl is significant, as this excerpt illustrates:

Perhaps my memory has amped up the details, but I can now imagine this frightful creature grabbing me by the shoulder in a death grip as I am spun round and round like a whirling dervish. In my film clip of this horror show there was little I could do to resist the grasp of this drunken prophetess. I felt dizzy and afraid.

 


About this 1909 postcard? When my plain Grandma Longenecker received this post card, she looked like this:

Fancy Victorian Fannie Longenecker before she became Mennonite
Fancy Victorian Fannie Longenecker before she became Mennonite

I found it in a stash of other cards inside the fold-out compartment of Aunt Ruthie’s secretary. What other treasures may be hiding there? I wonder.

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What treasures have you found either by design – or unexpectedly?

As a reader, what do you think of the literary device called “perhapsing”? Have you used it as a writer?