My mother always hoped that someday we’d go on a family road trip and drive all the way across the country to California, but we never did. Sometimes I dream of that trip, though, and imagine us pulling off the highway and checking into someplace with little cottages like this. Hollywood! How exciting that would have been.
As a child, I found the idea of the old year going out as an old man and the new year coming in as a baby to be a profound and moving metaphor, and I still do. I know it’s been a difficult year for many people, but it’s been an exceptionally good year for me, thanks to the birth of my first grandchild. Still, there were some hard days for me this year and many things I regret, and I’m happy as always to see the old year end and a fresh shiny new year begin. I am eternally optimistic, and as each new year begins, I always see it as a fresh start. I go way beyond New Year’s Resolutions — I always think that in the new year I am going to be totally different, really get my act together and become a new, true best version of myself. This feeling always wears off by mid-January, but somehow I always believe that this year, things will be different!
Happy New Year to one and all!
I have often wished that I had a photograph of the Dover Country Store as I remember it from my childhood, so I was happy to discover this postcard on CardCow. This was a favorite place of my family’s in the days when we lived in Westwood and Dedham. In the front part of the store, they sold random household stuff, lamps and dishes and decorative items, if I recall correctly. (I was never much interested in that sort of thing.) They also sold penny candy, including candy sticks, Squirrel Nut Zippers, Mint Juleps, paper strips with candy dots and my personal favorite then and now, red Swedish Fish. They also had old books, which we all loved, especially my father. Many of my parents’ old books that I still have came from there. In the back of the store, there was used furniture, which my mother loved. We bought a big, beautiful round pedestal dining room table there for $5 or $50 or something like that — I was seven or eight and don’t remember the details of the sale, I just remember how pleased my mother was with her bargain.
We used to like going for family drives in those days, and more often than not these would end at the Dover Country Store, followed by a stop at the Bubbling Brook for ice cream in season. My father died when I was nine and we moved to Worcester. My mother would still take us to the Dover Country Store once in a while, but it just wasn’t the same.
Happy memories, though, and seeing this picture really takes me back to that place and time. I look at this picture and can see my family standing out in front of the store — the kids with little bags of candy, my mother holding a lamp or ashtray, and my father with a pile of books — PhotoShop of the mind.
Truth or Consequences, New Mexico
In 1950, the town of Hot Springs renamed itself in honor of the Truth or Consequences radio program when host Ralph Edwards announced he’d broadcast the program from the first town that did so. My mother mentioned this as an amusing bit of trivia once when the show was on television, and this seemed so unlikely I had to go check the almanac to see if this was true. I still wonder who heard this on the radio and managed to talk everyone else into doing this.
Growing up in the era of TV Westerns, I was familiar with a place called Tombstone, but thought of it as someplace fictional or legendary, like Camelot or Shangri-La. I was around 12 when I realized it was a real place. The name just seemed too awful to be real.
I had heard people sing Mexicali Rose on television and I knew it was supposed to be Mexican because the people singing it were always wearing sombreros. But it was just a song, and the name didn’t catch my attention. But then I heard a contestant on a quiz show say that she was from Calexico, California, right across from Mexicali, Mexico, which delighted me. A pair of border towns with matching, mixed up names! How did such cool thing ever happened — who coordinated that?
I have great memories of looking through my mother’s Christmas card list. Looking through those names and addresses was part of the Christmas ritual.
We had old family friends named Helen and Henry who lived in the town with the lovely name of Maple Shade, New Jersey, on the street amusingly named Forklanding Road. We sent cards to Uncle John and Aunt Bessie who lived on Rochambeau Avenue in the Bronx. Uncle John was my grandfather’s brother but I have no memory of actually meeting him and Aunt Bessie in real life. Still, I marveled at their exotic address. Why was it “the Bronx” and not just “Bronx?” And how elegant Rochambeau Avenue must be! I pictured it as French, with ladies walking poodles past sidewalk cafes. My mother’s Christmas card list was a family history document, a collection of names and addresses of relatives near and far, old and new friends from various phases of their life.
I sometimes feel defensive about clinging to the habit of sending out paper cards. A lot of people think that sending Christmas cards is a waste of time, paper and postage, and that it’s totally unnecessary in the age of electronic communication. Every December, newspapers, magazine, blogs, etc., are full of articles about how to simplify Christmas, and it seems that reconsidering the sending of paper cards is always one of the first suggestions.
And I’m just fine with that — if you take no joy from sending Christmas cards, don’t do it. I remember the days when the sending of Christmas cards was a social obligation, and people worked hard to maintain their Christmas card lists. I remember people checking off names as people received cards — if someone who you didn’t send a card to sent you one, you were supposed to quickly send one out to them, and if someone you sent cards to didn’t reciprocate for two years, you could safely drop them from your list. Or at least this was what the advice columns said: my mother was not the type to be checking lists and dropping names. But in those days, the same kind of people who today care about how many Facebook friends they have measured their popularity by the number of Christmas cards they received.
But it doesn’t need to be like that. We should all send as many Christmas cards as we want, which might be fifty one year, zero the next and twenty the following year. Who’s counting? We should all graciously receive whatever cards we happen to receive, and send whatever we feel like sending — which for a lot of people is none. When you see Christmas cards as obligations, and associate them with pride on the one hand or guilt on the other, you’ve lost the spirit of the season.
I’ve always liked sending cards as a small way to keep in touch with people who are important to me. This includes some people who I see all the time or perhaps communicate with frequently via e-mail, Facebook, etc. There are also a few people who I mainly keep contact with through the annual Christmas card — sad, perhaps, but better than nothing, and just writing their names and addresses once a year reminds me of the good times we’ve shared. I wish I could say that I individually select cards for each person and wrote thoughtful little notes on each card, but I don’t. I just buy UNICEF cards, sign them and send them, most years anyway, and I hope that people I care about don’t sit around wondering why they did or didn’t get a card from me this year.
And whether by card, e-mail, Facebook, or just a good thought, I wish all my friends a merry Christmas and/or a Happy New Year!
If you’re working on your family history, you probably know the names of special places in your family members’ lives. Maybe your parents honeymooned at the Pancoast Hotel in Miami Beach, your grandmother graduated from Erasmus Hall High School in Brooklyn, and your great grandfather was the President of the Farmers National Bank in Abilene, Kansas.
If you’re lucky, they left you pictures of all these places, but what if they didn’t? My favorite source for this kind of picture is the online postcard store CardCow. They sell real postcards here, but after the card is sold, they keep the scanned images and information on the site. They’ve been doing this for years, and now have a huge collection of postcard images online. You can search by keyword, or browse by category: Churches, Hotels, Amusement Parks, etc. I like to browse by location so I can browse through all the pictures of a particular place, like my hometown: Worcester, Massachusetts. There’s no way to limit a search by date, but try throwing a year in a keyword search anyway. For cards that were mailed, the year of the postmark is indexed, so you just might get lucky. For example : 1906 Syracuse New York. Just keep in mind that you’re excluding all of the postcards that lacked a postcard, and that the dates aren’t very precise because many postcards were sold over a period of several years.
Once you find postcards that are connected to your family history, you have a lot of options. You can order the actual postcard, if it hasn’t been sold already. As devoted as I am to digital images, I like keeping some of these in my paper files, and imagine my future grandchildren discovering them someday. It’s also easy to embed the postcard images in a blog or website, as I have done here. You can get the code to copy-and-paste in three different sizes. The image will be linked back to the Cardcow site, and have a subtle watermark. For cards that have already been sold, you can also buy a digital image in different sizes, starting at $3 for a 600 x 377 unwatermarked image for posting on the web. Larger files (1660 x 1044) with various rights are also available.
These old postcards can supplement family photographs, and help bring your family story to life!
Happy Father’s Day to all my friends who are dads, who are celebrating with their dads or who are missing them. I’d also like to honor the grandfathers, uncles, teachers, neighbors and other good men who provide support to kids whose fathers are not around — a little of the right kind of attention can make a big difference in a young person’s life!
Another great vintage postcard from Cardcow.com. I appreciate that they provide embed code in various sizes to make it easy for anyone to post these cards on blogs and websites.