Thursday, July 31, 2008

The Four Dollar Box

I set out one sunny Saturday morning in 1999 to do a little grocery shopping. Before I reached the four-lane I noticed a small red and white sign to the left in front of a neat white-framed house: Garage Sale Today. Spotting a few pieces of antique glassware on the makeshift table, I decided to pull over.

The house was being sold and everything from the attic had literally

been strewn about the yard, placed on sheets and stacked under tables. I was about to make my getaway with a hand painted wooden bowl and crystal pitcher I'd found in the rubble when a medium-sized cardboard box caught my eye. Unopened, yellowed......and full of old ephemera.

At first glance it looked like just a bunch of yard sale junk - envelopes, greeting cards, a few
stamps, maybe a postcard here and there. A
few matchboxes and military-looking things. Might be interesting, I thought.
I asked the elderly lady, who'd apparently been perched all morning in a rocker overseeing strange people poke through her things, "Do you know what's in this box?" "I found it in the attic," she said. "That stuff belonged to my late husband. He was in WWII. I don't know what's in it. Just some old papers of his. Nothing much."
"How much do you want for it?" I asked.

"Oh....I'll take four dollars if that's not too much." "That's fine," I said. I paid the nice lady and went on my merry way, much more excited about the bowl and pitcher than the dilapidated box.

Later that evening I decided to unearth the cardboard treasure.
I so love a good mystery. Wonder what I'd find. ....

Every time I tell this story I get a bubbly I-can't-believe-this-happened-to-me feeling in the giggly part of my stomach and shake my head in disbelief.

Are you ready for this?

Inside the four-dollar box - the one I nearly decided not to stop for - were hundreds of antique postcards from Vienna, Germany, France, Nice, Lourdes, Paris, Marseilles and other parts of the world. Most were untouched - in perfect condition. There were official military holiday greeting cards stamped 1944 and 45. Army regulations and security letters to the troops.
A soldier's pocket atlas, cup, knife, tags, instructions, Army show pamphlets. Complete sets of untouched artist signed postcards from Vienna in mint condition, twenty-four Vienna Wien collection pieces still sealed in paper wrapping. Swiss original watercolour postcards. The list goes on. And more United States Army memorabilia than I knew what to do with.

It was the day my love affair with antique postcards began.

Sometime later I had time to research their history and determine what I'd found. I became somewhat of an antique postcard connoisseur and still love to find oils and mini watercolors to frame (such as Raphael Tuck) in good condition. Unfortunately, I later sold some of the army tags and articles in a post-divorce moment, most for a fraction of what they were worth. One of the postcards was eventually sold to a museum curator in Florida. Other small things found their demise in an EBAY frenzy.... the most memorable example of 'getting something for nothing' is the story of a book of souvenir matches from Florida (found in the four-dollar box) dated 1940-ish that sold for $42.10. A book of oversized matches with ugly pink flamingos on the front!

But that was not the greatest treasure, by far, in the box. I still have the most precious things. Neatly stacked and rubber-banded together underneath the postcards were a collection of Military Censored handwritten letters from Europe...

From a fifteen-year-old Austrian girl

Who was in love with an American soldier.

From what I can gather, he never returned the correspondence and was probably already married at the time he met her on holiday in France. Whenever I read them I feel a bit like I'm invading their privacy. Did his wife know? Did the sweet lady in the rocker ever discover them? What happened to the young girl? And who is "the boy" she keeps referring to?

Were the postcards reminders of places they visited together?

Is that why he kept so many? Is it possible that Mr. American Soldier was a true romantic? Did he love her? Were they ever reunited? Did he miss her?

I have pictures of the soldier that were made into real-photo postcards. There are no pictures of the girl. But I know she was lovely. And I know she loved
Struggling with the English translation, here's a sample from one of her letters (also see scanned image above
)...."I know that many girls go with soldiers to get things to eat. And I always thought maybe you think the same thing about me.....Sometimes I miss you a lot. It's hard to think that I can never see you again......"
I like to take the letters out from time to time and conjure up a happy ending, delicately turn them over in my hands and think about how she must have felt when she wrote them. I can laugh at her jokes and peek inside her heartache - maybe even understand the angst between those carefully crafted words, painstakingly written in broken English and giddish delight.

I have no words from him on paper. No pictures of her. Just memories in a box. But I don't have to wonder if he returned her feelings.
You see, it's just this simple to me. And how I wish I could tell her.

The loveliest thing of all - is that he kept them.

*Parts of this post were reprinted from December 2006.
 Copyright © 2008 Mimi Lenox. All Rights Reserved. 


Charles Gramlich said...

wow, that's so cool. These are gorgeous, and certainly worth more than 4 bucks eh?

ciara said...

i love the story of the letter of young love. it does make you wonder, doesn't it?

WillThink4Wine said...

How marvelous! How do you know the woman who sold you the $4 box is not that young girl?

Patti said...

I was thinking the same thing as willthink4wine...the old woman was that 15-year old girl in love with the soldier.

You certainly got a treasure at that garage sale. Lovely post, Mimi.

Empress Bee (of the High Sea) said...

i'm sure he is happy someone treasures his things!

smiles, bee

Star8278 said...

What a great find and a treasure to save. You've done a good thing.

Lee said...

It amazes me whenever I hear one of these stories of treasures found in flea markets, yard sales...whatever. I could get lost for hours in mementos like this. Thanks for sharing, Your Highness.

Daisy said...

What a magical story!

Sandee (Comedy +) said...

What a find indeed. There are many stories like this one. Most were lost forever...but you saved this one. Have a great day Mimi. Big hug and lotsa lovies. :)

Bud Weiser, WTIT said...

What a terrific tale. THe stuff you don't know about the whole story makes all the better...

Mimi Lenox said...

Charlers - And there are many more where they came from. I really need to get them into some sort of order.

Ciara - The handwriting in the letters is beautiful and meant so much to her. I love the story.

Mimi Lenox said...

WillThink - I know because of the dates on the letter. The lady in the chair was much older than the girl would have been.

Patti - And WHY would she give away such treasures from her husband? Eh???

Bee - I hope so. It was so sad really to see them in a box in the middle of the yard for anyone to take!

Mimi Lenox said...

Star - I feel funny reading them sometimes but they always make me happy and sad at the same time. Go figure.

Lee - I spent so much time researching the cards and the places. It's an endless and fascinating process.
In fact this post has made me want to find an auction sale this weekend.

Daisy - I am glad you liked the story.

Mimi Lenox said...

Sandee - It's a shame the stories are lost. Thanks for the cyber hugs.

Bud - You know my curiousity can't agree with that statement!

Anndi said...

Maybe you should write their love story as you imagine it... what a wonderful book that would be.

Travis said...

I love the word ephemera. It's just so evocative.

And he kept the things.

Tink *~*~* said...

I love these! How fascinating to study these artifacts, especially the sweet note in impeccable penmanship from the young girl.

Happy Friday -
Tink *~*~*
My Mobile Adventures *~*~*

Anonymous said...

OOOH how beautifully sad and romantic and exciting all rolled into one..
I would Love to make a find like that too Mimi Thanks for sharing x

Mimi Lenox said...

Anndi - There are a million possibilities for a story or book here.

Travis - He kept the things...

Tink - Her penmanship is unbelievable.

Jane - I love old postcards and the stories they tell. Glad you liked this post.

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