To keep, or not to keep, all those Valentines?

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My husband and I almost chuckle with glee when we both imagine our children coming across the boxes of greeting cards we’ve collected over the decades. Thank God they won’t be able to throw them at us in disgust when we’re both six feet under, even though they’ll probably want to.

We’re actually doing our best to add to the volume of the collections as we maintain a tradition of buying at least three cards for each occasion. My husband began this tradition with his late wife and I’ve joyfully adopted it. I was already a Hallmark-aholic after my late husband made a habit of picking out the most expensive and most beautiful cards for each special event. Opening the Christmas card that hid in the tree was the crowning touch of that gift-giving day.

And what’s not fun about going on a treasure hunt on Valentine’s Day? It all started last night when I got home from a trip to the city and saw the vase of red roses on the kitchen table and continued when I opened my iPad later to discover a Valentine card inside. I chuckled while brushing my teeth before bed to see a tiny box of chocolates with a miniature balloon on the bathroom ledge. It wasn’t too much of a surprise to find a heart-shaped box of chocolates and another Valentine card on my pillow. But I didn’t discover the box of chocolate turtles in my dressing room until this morning.

I did not do as well on hiding places, but one of the three cards I gave him with a gift of clothing and a cherry pie did have a spontaneous verse of my own creation inside. A fourth one is tucked under his pillow to be discovered tonight.

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Though they may be expensive, greeting cards are personal artifacts. If preserved and treasured by the original recipient, they can provide important legacy stories if our descendants are willing to sift through them and uncover their value.

I know, because I’m trying to preserve my grandmother’s scrapbook of Get Well cards from 1950. I have to admit this is the most unusual scrapbook I’ve ever seen due to its subject matter. But as I read the beautiful collection from family and friends I am uncovering a story of a time when neighbors went out of their way to take care of each other, in sickness and in times of other trouble. The cards came from Grandma’s church members, ladies she exchanged recipes with and who worked side-by-side to make ham balls at fund raising luncheons. On the last page I uncovered the reason for the cards. According to the patient bedside slip, Grandma had a thyroidectomy in 1950, a pretty grave operation in those days. Interestingly enough, her daughter, my Aunt Gene, also had her thyroid removed, and Gene’s granddaughter did as well.

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So there we have a side story inside the bigger story. Those cards depict an era. They depict a microcosm of caring and a capsule of health DNA. But the scrapbook pages that hold the cards are crumbling and the photo corners that held each one have dislodged. I have a new-old scrapbook where the cards will find a more secure resting place. They will soon find a prominent spot in the living room so they can be shared with visiting family members.

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I will also be sharing the crumbling scrapbook that Grandma may have assembled as a child as she cut out colorful advertising labels from flower seeds and medicine bottles. These “snapshots” of the Victorian era are similar to ones that I’ve seen sold in antique shops. To me, they’re all beautiful, artistic treasures that make me want to verify the identity of the child who pasted them in the book, and even more, the things she was feeling and experiencing at the time.

If our own children wonder the same things about us when they discover shoe boxes full of cards, we can rest well in the assurance that our love is reaching out to them after our deaths in the signatures and sentiments expressed on colorful pieces of paper.

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