Monday, November 27, 2006

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-frame 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 get-away 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 1945. 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 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 that 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, but 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...... "Sounds like a a movie, doesn't it?

But never mind that. I like to take them 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 don't have to wonder if he returned her feelings. I have no words from him on paper. No pictures of her. Just memories in a box.
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.


Mimi Lenox said...

The red's gotta go. It's giving me a headache.

Maryam in Marrakesh said...

Oh my, what magic. Clearly you were destined to have this little treasure trove, Mimi. The universe has a funny way of doing that. Thank you for sharing them with us.

Anonymous said...

Splendid post. Really touching. I love the new background color, by the way. It totally works for me as I think of you -- golden, vintage, glowing -- all those good things. Boy, you certainly have the makings of a wonderful short story if not a book there (like an Anita Shreve book). Isn't it sad though, that young girls went with soldiers for something to eat. By the way, I love how you are silly one minute and serious and contemplative the next. I'm like that, too, and that's why I feel such a kinship to you.

Dr. A said...

You've been Tagged! Congratulations. Check out my blog for details.

~*SilverNeurotic*~ said...

As the adage goes "What's one man's trash is another one's treasure". Sounds like you hit this one right on the head.

Mimi Lenox said...

You're welcome, Maryam. I love reading them and learning about the world this way.

Mimi Lenox said...

Gem....Thanks, my friend. What a nice thing to say. We are so much alike! Yes, definitely a short story if not more. I value your literary opinion and know it is always truthful (even when it's not what I want to hear) - that's what real friends do. There is a great story in that box for sure. Have a great day!

Mimi Lenox said...

Thanks, Dr. A. Queen Memes will dutifully submit!

Mimi Lenox said...

Silver..I generally don't go through others' trash but I get your drift. In this case, it was clearly valuable to me! Thanks for stopping by. I always enjoy your comments.

Bond said...

Holy Moly - what an incredible find...

Your words gave these people and items life Mimi.. thank you

Bazza said...

Mimi, that is fascinating. I love looking at old postcards at antique fairs. It's a good way to get into collecting without breaking the bank.
Your post has reminded me that, among my late father's posessions, are some wartime photos and a letter from a young lady in Belgium. My sister and I have a romantic theory that we have an elder sibling somewhere on the continent! (It was a very passionate letter; my dad was very handsome!)

Zeek said...

Hi there, what a wonderful post! I would feel fortunate to find a box like that too!

Tom Atkins said...

So many of the treasures in my life have been inexpensive little finds. Some were real treasures with dollar value, and others a treasure of little monetary value, but of great personal value. What a wonderful post to bring all those gifts of life back to mind.


alphawoman said...

What a lovely story. And the other magic it that you found them.

Mimi Lenox said...

Hi Bond. Appreciate your thoughts. It was an incredible find.

Mimi Lenox said...

Bazza...What a great story you have to tell as well. It IS fascinating. Let's share postcard finds sometime. We could do an antique postcard post!

Mimi Lenox said...

Thanks for stopping in again, Tom. How's the poet coming along? I think I'll click over and check out your latest.

Mimi Lenox said...

Alphawoman...Thank you. There is definitely magic in that box. I love to read the letters and look at the cards.

Jan said...

Why is everyone changing their blogs lately?

Nice treasure mimi

Bud Weiser, WTIT said...

Great stuff. I'm impressed.


Mimi Lenox said...

Jan...I guess we're bored.

Mimi Lenox said...

Thanks, Bud. I appreciate it. You're always welcome here.

Morgen said...

Mimi - I must say, that even though I was a maroon fan, the new color just suits you better. Vintage, glowing, warm yellow - Gem said some of these things, and yes, they are very "you".
I think they're a perfect background for the lovely postcards.
And YES the letters would make a fantastic book.
Did you ever watch the Britcom "As Time Goes By"? They got 7 seasons out of ONE missing letter -- imagine what you can do with this treasure trove?


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