To Miss Gertrude

A week ago I went with a girlfriend to a local flea market – set up in my old high school's parking lot, it is usually strong in jewelry, weak in books.  I rarely find anything there of note, but the sight of the vendor's tents – weighed down with blue petticoats, faux leopard jackets, polyester dresses; their trays sparkling oceans of costume jewelry – is madly uplifting.  I always have hope.

I bought a vest with dice for buttons; Isadora Duncan scarves that lapped my ankles like affectionate cats.  Then I found an – unexpected – box of postcards and photographs.  I didn't think twice and thrust both hands into that tinted and sepia collection of forgotten lives.  And I found this:

The back is undivided and there is no white margin, which dates it at around 1900-1910.  It features a woman dreamily looking at a row of Chinese lanterns floating and bobbing like pink and turquoise planets above her.  Her body is pushed forward and pulled back:  a vision of the whalebone's last hurrah.  A blooming vine branches with care around the windows, inside which are seen the patterned triangles of summer curtains:  feminine and dainty, drawn aside to let in the painted light.

Glitter, dim after 100 years of callous storage, spells out a message:  "a note from Pittsburg, PA"  (the 'Pittsburgh' spelling was introduced in 1911).  Below the announcement is a tiny envelope, possibly just a whimsy of the sender.  I know that messages were not allowed on the address side of the card – perhaps the note was also too personal for a postman's eyes?  Why, then, did he not send a letter?  Did the image hold a special significance?

Holding my breath, I reached into the envelope, hoping that the delicate billet doux was still there…it was:

"Ere I close my eyes in sleep
And when I'm wrapt in slumber deep,
Do I dream of happy days
Days not far beyond my reach
How I dream of you my dear
Always wishing you were near."

Not only are the author's initials written, they are stamped as well.  Romantic and business-like.  The postcard is addressed to Miss Gertrude Brocker.  I hope she appreciated her doting and efficient lover. 

At first I thought the image on the card a little off-center, the expression hard to read.  But perhaps she was only listening to the clumsy, affectionate little poem being read to her – or watching the words fluttering down confetti-like from the paper lanterns.

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16 responses to “To Miss Gertrude

  1. How wonderful – is there any way you can search the records to see if Miss Gertrude married the mysterious FCV?

  2. The coloration is so exotic, and so off-kilter. This lovely thing is sending a handful of different messages, all style-encrypted.

  3. that's fantastic – I worry about what will eventually happen to all the bits and pieces I've kept from my family and hope that if they end up in a sale they're bought by people as considerate as you. I shall have to ask one of my nieces to take charge of things.

  4. Ooh, I'm so jealous! That's just the sort of thing I always wish I could find. Mostly I come home with strange old cookbooks.

  5. Oh I LOVE your find! I can smell the mustiness of the old paper as I read the poem, feel the brittleness of the paper in my fingers. I adore vintage paper things

  6. I, too, wish that we could know what Miss Gertrude and Mr. FGV did. Are their great-grandchildren running around now, or was it a trifle now lost except for this?

  7. Kate/LT – unfortunately even though I've used a few geneology sites to find out what happened to our two waifs, they all require $$$ to view the results of my searchings.
    Doug – "The coloration is so exotic, and so off-kilter." Isn't it? So unfinished, yet one more chair, one more lantern, would ruin it.
    Fanny – I'm in charge of the family photo albums – I'm not sure how that happened – and the way it's looking, I'll just have to set up a museum. I have so many collections, etc. in my apartment, I should probably be laying down the groundwork anyway.
    emily – there are MANY strange cookbooks out there! And I just might photograph those scarves, they really are lovely – $2.50 each.
    eliz s. – my exclamation exactly as I discovered that treasure!
    Lavender – so do I. At flea markets I'm drawn towards cardboard boxes and shoeboxes because they invariably hold the paper goods I seek. Even the most minor things are little bits of history in your hands.

  8. It's lovely to find these little scraps of history

  9. beautiful. i too am curious this gertrude brocker.

  10. This entry really made me sentimental. I felt as if I had just had one of my recurring dreams from my childhood. Thanks Aubrey for writing so beautifully, always, and for the inspiration you give to us through words.

  11. What a thrill to find this treasure! A bit of the past. So intriguing!

  12. What a wondrous find.

  13. What a wonderful treasure to find! I love finding old letters. And that card..I'd like to add another picture request..that vest with dice for buttons? Sounds delicious.

  14. I miss the SoCal flea experience. Truly more finds that take us back to a more interesting time. I have a bunch of old letters from the 1800's and perhaps a thousand post-cards from my mom's 50 year collection. But not a one speaks of love and certainly not as personal. Mostly holiday family to family.
    When I was a wedding planner in LA we would take beautiful old writings like this and scan them and print them out in repeat patterns to line envelopes for engagement announcements and wedding shower invitations. This would have been a good one.

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