While reading Jerry Glenn’s interesting and insightful article (in today’s issue) about ephemera, I realized that I am indeed a collector. I can’t throw away any piece of paper that (in my mind) might someday be important – perhaps as ideas to include in my Great American Novel (which I have yet to write).
For years, I have saved piles and stacks and boxes of papers that Jerry might classify as “ephemera” – items, usually of paper or cardboard, that were not intended to be saved forever, as their purpose was temporary.
Such items in my possession include every report card I received from first grade to senior year of high school, nearly every piece of art my children created in elementary school, invitations to my college graduation and two weddings, tickets to concerts in the ’80s, and a couple of letters my mother wrote to me soon after I moved to Hilton Head Island.
Among my paper collection are obituaries of loved ones, the receipt from Palmetto Electric for my power hook-up in 1984, and maybe a speeding ticket from a Georgia State Trooper.
As a newspaper reader since my early years, I saved articles I thought might be fun to read in the future (like the December 1970 piece about the True Light Church from Charlotte, N.C., predicting the end of the world that month).
I also saved my first “real” article, which was published in The State newspaper when I was still a college student. I wrote about an unusual coffin that was visible in an abandoned graveyard underneath a church in Columbia. (It had a glass window over the dead woman’s face.)
To get that story, I had to crawl through the dirt on my belly and use a mirror to see her decaying face. My classmate took a photo to go with the article. It’s here somewhere as well.
I also have a letter from the White House, thanking me for driving in Vice President George H.W. Bush’s motorcade when he visited Hilton Head during his Presidential campaign in 1988.
The idea of ephemera popped up again when my friend Rodney Vaughn, formerly of Bluffton, shared photos of some memorabilia he found in a trunk. He recently moved to a farmhouse in a small town in North Carolina and found the trunk in a shed on the property, which used to be a dairy farm. He will soon have enough ephemera and objects to start a museum.
I am thankful Jerry has identified my “collection,” giving it legitimacy, rather than relegating me to the ranks of “hoarder of useless material.”
Jerry mentioned the Ephemera Society of America, so I visited its website. The home page gives another name to my collection: Paper Americana. I learned that not only is all my paper stuff considered ephemera, but so are my dad’s metal Lucky Strike cigarette box and the fabric swatches from when I “had my colors done” in the ’70s.
Maurice Rickards, author of “Encyclopedia of Ephemera” and a founder of the Ephemera Society in England, classified such items as “the minor transient documents of everyday life.” These scraps and things – which some people (like me) just can’t toss out – serve as a sort of history; they “reflect the moods and mores of past times in a way that more formal records cannot.”
And that, I think, is the primary reason I keep this stuff. Someday, this collection might be seen as our family’s history – our back story – beyond our birth and death dates, with little insights into how we lived our lives and what we held important (family, faith, community, graveyard stories).
At the least, it’s great fodder for a fun conversation with other paper hoarders.