Would you pass up an invitation to a lawn soirée on a holiday weekend? This week 107 years ago my grandma, Miss Fanny Martin, then a single woman, received a penny postcard invitation to such a gathering on July 3, 1909.
Mary Elizabeth Kob writes in neat cursive: “You are heartily invited to attend a Lawn Soirée July 3, 1909 in honor of Jacob S. Kob at his home. Meet 7:30. Refreshments. Respectfully, Mary Elizabeth Kob.” I assume my grandmother attended the party.
From my vantage point in the 21st century, it’s hard to piece together the details. Was Mary Elizabeth Jacob’s wife, daughter, or sister? Based on the name alone, it’s hard to tell. Was the occasion a combination birthday and Fourth of July celebration? If so, the emphasis may have been on the national holiday judging from the red, white, and blue postcard colors.
Leo Kob was the only “Kob” name familiar to me when I was growing up in Elizabethtown, Pennsylvania. Leo, whom I heard my parents refer to as “Kobbie,” owned a G. E. Oil and Gas Heating business in Elizabethtown, a family business that boasted the phrase “Since 1904” in a page in my high school yearbook. Maybe Leo bought or inherited the business from his grandfather or father. Was Leo related to Jacob? A search of genealogical records could prove or disprove any relationship.
Yes, excavating one’s family history leads to questions, some without clear answers.
Piecing together fragments of family history requires a measure of conjecture and speculation. Therefore, when one reaches the limits of family history and historical record, what happens next? Memoir writers can use a technique known as “perhapsing,” a tool for supplying detail in a scene when memory is unreliable or when facts are simply missing. According the writer Lisa Knopp, “The word perhaps cues the reader that the information [the writer] is imparting is not factual but speculative.” Because deviating too far from fact could result in fiction, life story writers have a tight rope to balance here. Yet “perhapsing” used sparingly or a well-placed “it might have been” can occasionally provide motivation and action, adding richness and complexity to the narrative.
Knowing about Leo Kob and his family is not critical to my own memoir writing, but writing about the details of my visit to New York City to distribute gospel tracts as a young Mennonite girl is significant, as this excerpt illustrates:
Perhaps my memory has amped up the details, but I can now imagine this frightful creature grabbing me by the shoulder in a death grip as I am spun round and round like a whirling dervish. In my film clip of this horror show there was little I could do to resist the grasp of this drunken prophetess. I felt dizzy and afraid.
About this 1909 postcard? When my plain Grandma Longenecker received this post card, she looked like this:
I found it in a stash of other cards inside the fold-out compartment of Aunt Ruthie’s secretary. What other treasures may be hiding there? I wonder.
What treasures have you found either by design – or unexpectedly?
As a reader, what do you think of the literary device called “perhapsing”? Have you used it as a writer?
I like the phrase \’perhapsing\’ – it\’s clever and adds an author\’s wink to her tales. I\’m going to use the word for my creative writing classes this summer. It helps a writer to not be intimidated by writing about her/his past relatives and the lives they may have lived.
Great post – loved seeing the picture of your Grandma – a lovely lady. Oh, and I\’d definitely accept that invitation.
One of my memoir coaches introduced me to the term, and I felt relief hearing about it because then I could tell a story with the emotion I felt (then and now) even though the facts were blurry. If memoirists lose their authenticity, the story is shot to pieces in my view. Perhapsing circumvents that problem.
Some day I hope to meet you, Pamela, even though I it may not be in a soiree, an invitation I would accept for sure. 🙂
I hope it happens too, Marian! Over the last couple of years, I\’ve met some blogging buddies (one from ND, and others from VA and NYC, when I was in DE – go figure) and it\’s so much fun! Let me know if you\’re ever in the Boston area.
So much in this brief post, Marian, from the mysterious postcard, to your memoir and techniques of memoir writing, and then to your grandmother as a young woman, not \”plain.\” And hidden treasures, too!
I\’m intrigued by the postcard and why Jacob was being honored and your grandmother\’s decision to become \”plain.\” You must have mentioned that before, but I don\’t remember.
I use \”perhaps\” all the time, and never thought of it as a technique. I would think that you couldn\’t possibly know for sure all the details of the past in your life. Perhaps 🙂 you\’d remember your own life, and use the word less often there, but if you speculate about other\’s thoughts or motivations you would have to use perhaps or \”perhapsing.\” (I\’m not sure how I feel about that term.)
Thank you for your thorough analysis as usual. Grandma Fannie married Henry, a Mennonite. But in those days, they did not join the church and become “plain” until after they were married. A photograph pictures them holding my dad (in a dress!) with Grandma in a fancy Victorian dress. Obviously, their compliance with Mennonite rules came later.
As to the “perhaps” technique, I believe I use it only once in this draft. When emotions are high and memory is faulty, it is appropriate. As I mention, “Use sparingly.”
Very interesting! I\’ve never seen \’perhapsing\’ in any of my family history notes and writings. But I do have an interesting history written about a grandmother in the family whose name was never used in any of the writing! She is simply \’grandmother\’ or \’the old grandmother\’ and as I read I\’m begging for her name! It\’s a very interesting and detailed account but also very frustrating!
Sorry, I meant to write about the postcard invitation. I loved it. Thanks for sharing it with us!
I love your stories, Anita, because of your rich family history. You have at least two options: Perhaps making up a name that suits the personality you intuit through your grandma\’s story or checking in family history sites, like Ancestry.com
Good idea, Marian! I just may do that. But later, no time now!!! 🙂
I definitely understand, Anita!
I can see where \’perhapsing\’ would be quite useful when writing a memoir, Marian. You\’ve uncovered a wonderful treasure with that postcard. I too have a treasured postcard that I plan to write about one day. Thanks for sharing the lovely photograph of your grandmother…such a sweet smile.
Your posts are so appealing because they are brief and juicy, never an energy suck. I look forward to your sharing the postcard treasure. Thanks, Jill.
Aw…that\’s so kind of you, Marian. <3 I hope the move is going smoothly.
Just wanted you to know that we had a cousins party at my house last Sunday. 103 decendents of Phares Longenecker Sr and Kathryn Hersh. They came from Ethiopia, Kuwait, Georgia, California, Illinois and Penna. Wonderful time together and some stayed until dark. Uncle Wilmer/Rhoda and Aunt Lois Kreider were here. Aunt Pearl recently went to a nursing home. Your brother, Mark, served her well taking her to church. Ava Lee
Sent via the Samsung Galaxy S® 5 mini, an AT&T 4G LTE smartphonep
Oh, Ava Lee, it\’s so good to hear from you here. Your Uncle Wilmer\’s missionary work has brought blessed variety into the family mix. Thank you for the update on your branch of the Longenecker family. Did you know that one summer I was hired out to help your Grandma Kathryn? I remember picking strawberries for her and feeling guilty for eating so many – ha!
Mark enjoyed picking up Aunt Pearl for church. I\’m sure it reminded him of what he did for Mother and Aunt Ruthie not long ago.
I love the invite also and am fascinated by the French word soirée on that card.
My own memoir used at least one perhaps in nearly every chapter. Another way of bringing the \”me-now\” into the story of \”me-then.\”
Happy Fourth in the midst of transition. There\’s a crack in the liberty bell. That\’s how the light gets in. 🙂
Shirley, I never took a magnifying glass to your memoir, just enjoyed the flow from scene to scene. Take that as a compliment.
However, now I scrutinize more as a reader, knowing what I know about the memoir process.
What a metaphor that crack in the Liberty Bell is for such a time as this. Light and love beat violence and viciousness every time. Merci beaucoup to your reply and to the thought of a soiree . . .
I love that postcard and would certainly have attended. We need more Soirées, I think. What a find!! Your grandmother was very pretty, she looks full of confidence and fun! \”Perhapsing\” is a good way to fill in the blanks when writing memoir. I once discovered faded copies of the school newspaper my mom edited in the early 40s. The gossip section was hilarious.
Your writing genes go way back, probably before your mother\’s era. That could be a blog post in the making.
Yes, confident and fun describes my grandma, which I will continue to flesh out in scenes as I write memoir. Thanks for adding the anecdote about your mom.
And yes, I\’ll be ready for a soiree sometime soon, after boxes are hauled away, unpacked. Maybe even before then. You\’ve move recently so you know the drill well. I can\’t imagine the impact of an intercontinental move. Brava!
Not sure how I survived it as it was tough. Perhaps the excitement of a new adventure spurred me on!
My goodness, Marian: you have so many endearing family mementoes and treaures! I love that Perhapsing: it gives the reader a choice of possibilities and outcomes. And this song has just sprung into my head: \”Quizás, quizás, quizás\” (Spanish for perhaps, perhaps, perhaps). 👍
Your reference to the Spanish song intrigued me, so I looked it up on YouTube; this rendition by Andrea Bocelli is gorgeous: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xYz5CiEy5bY
Because of you, I took a 3-minute musical interlude, Fatima. Thanks!
Glad you enjoyed it. It is a lovely song.
I\’ve just listened to that version: it is really lovely! What a voice Andrea has!
There is also a rendition by Nat King Cole and others. Take your pick. I appreciate your making we aware of this special song.
Lapsing into perhapsing: love it! I just used the word in something I\’m working on this morning (not perhapsing, but speculation using perhaps). Thank you Marian.
From what I\’m reading in the comments here, perhapsing = speculation. (A little license here and there adds spice to writing.) I suppose I\’ll see your musings in one of the many publications I see you featured in online.
I\’ll say \”thank you\” and \”you\’re welcome,\” for the comment here, Melodie.
Marian I love the picture of your grandmother before she became Mennonite, but I was really curious about how she looked after she became Mennonite!
Fortunately, I have a such photo of her in a post aired last August. She is reading a story to our now-grown daughter surrounded by her gorgeous houseplants, which is how she expressed her fancy side after she turned plain: https://plainandfancygirl.com/2015/08/19/kids-oaks-and-quotes-purple-passages-for-august-2015/
Grandma always seemed contented with her choice, and joyfully followed the church rules, at least from my perspective. The only indication that she was ever fancy is in her early photos. The,n after I was married, she presented my sisters and me with boxes of her youthful rings – amethyst, pearls, and opals,
Marian — After reading about \”perhapsing\” in your post, I was extremely curious so I checked the final manuscript for Note to Self to see how many times I used the word \”perhaps.\” There are a total of 7 instances.
In the excerpt you shared from your manuscript, I especially enjoyed, \”Perhaps my memory has amped up the details…\” What a great way to phrase it!
You echo Shirley\’s experience it seems, each in a different genre. How interesting!
I love this post, Marian. I was 14 when I found a box of letters and postcards tucked in a blanket keep at my (maternal) grandmother\’s house. The box contained many cryptic postcards, invitations, pictures and letters, two pairs of tiny lace gloves, what remained of a bouquet of roses tied with ribbons, and an envelope of buttons. Dressy buttons removed from fancy dresses. My grandmother explained that her sister saved the buttons from the fancy dresses she wore when 1)she received her first kiss, 2)heard her first \”I love you\” and 3)received a proposal from her behoved. I asked what some of the carefully written lines in the letters and postcards meant, and she held a finger to her lips and smiled. \”We all have our secrets, dear.\”
Your memorabilia, like mine, is full of whimsy and keepsakes. Thanks you for offering some sweet tidbits from \”Grandma\’s Attic,\” where secrets are stored. Love this, Marylin.
Marian, you continue to unearth such delightful treasures. Love the invitation and the photo of your grandmother. Thank you for enlightening me on the term \”perhapsing\” which makes perfect sense. I know I used it in my memoir though I didn\’t realize at the time that it had a label. It\’s amazing how one little relic such as a postcard from the past can generate such rich material. You are the weaver of so many rich tales!
Well, I found this card on my last visit to PA and knew I wanted to use it for July Fourth. When I re-read the message from Mary Elizabeth Kob last month I thought, \”I don\’t know much about this family.\” That brought to mind a lecture from my last memoir teacher, Benjamin Vogt, who introduced me to the idea of \”perhapsing.\”
You know how it goes: We writers follow our noses, and look where it takes us. I\’m so glad you enjoyed this post from the inside out, Kathy. Thank you for the comment and the share!
I have used it occasionally. I love the freedom of this technique…but I never heard it called perhapsing before. Good to know, nice word.
Apparently we can use it without knowing the name. Kids do this all the time – ha! Have a Happy Fourth, Lucinda.
Thank you, you too. Although right now I am in a land where they celebrate Canada Day on the 1st and take no notice of the 4th…
Ach, vell – Happy Canada Day. Tomorrow really is July 1. How time flies!
Marian, I used the word perhaps in my memoir as well, as one must when writing about family members who never let you into their thoughts. My parents rarely said how they felt, but their actions often spoke louder than words. My guesses as to what they were thinking are perhaps the truth.
Great post as usual. I\’m really looking forward to reading your memoir!!
Thanks, Joan. Memoir writing is stalled now as we make the move. But I hope to tackle revisions soon – and with a fresh perspective.
You too lived in a world of appearances: \”What will people think?\” seemed to be the mantra of the age we grew up in. It takes so much energy to put up a front. I\’m glad for freedom of speech in our families now. Pretense be gone! I suspect you feel the same. This weekend I want to begin reading the advance copy of your book. A review will follow. 🙂
Before I left to go on my travels I was doing a bit of a tidy up of my desk in my study yesterday. Putting scraps of notes aside, finding lost things – and what did I see? From a few days ago I\’d made a note apropos what I don\’t know – of using that word \’perhaps\’ for something, maybe a blog post. I must have been in a reverie and wrote that word down –
So thanks for this Marian, perhaps it was meant to be, synchronistically –
Happy 4th July! May the digging further yield more treasure!
I love synchronicity – thanks for your anecdote here, Susan, and the good wishes. 🙂
Marian, Interesting. \’Perhaps\’ seems one of those words that could apply to the expanding, reflective self. As in my own memoir, \”Perhaps, if I had known years later how his death would haunt me, I might have acted differently.\”
Yes, I agree: \”‘Perhaps’ seems one of those words that could apply to the expanding, reflective self.\” The self has changed over time and so have the memories associated with it. The memoir I would write at age thirty, say, would not be the same one I would write at seventy. Thanks for chiming in here, Susan. And Happy Fourth!
What a wonderful invitation!
I\’d like to attend such a soiree with you – as long as you bring your camera. (Without a doubt!)
I suppose I would like to think that Mary Elizabeth Kob was the sister of Jacob Kob and maybe he had designs on your Grandmother but was too shy to ask and got his sister to do it for him . Would that have happened 1909 ❓
I have not heard of \’perhapsing \’ but why not indeed . \’Perhapsing \’ is far better than total fabrication …it\’s just \’maybe \’ …\’use your imagination\’ because that is what it\’s for after all.
I have mentioned in a previous post I am writing a memoir about my family in words of my imagination …I know the stories and the facts I just put my words in their mouths …I\’ve put it on hold for a while must get back into it .
Such a lovely post Marian .
I love your imagined crush of Jacob on my Grandmother. Perhaps, perhaps not. Surely she had not yet met her husband, Henry, in 1909.
Your family tale sounds fantastic to me. You must get back to it. No one has a voice for spinning a story like you do. Thanks, Cherry.
Ohhhhhh thank you Marian you always say lovely things about me and have far more confidence in me than I do ☺️
My friends did and still do the same for me. My conclusion: We see our limitations. Others see our potential. 😊
How quaint that sounds, a lawn soiree. 🙂 I know I\’m guilty of using the odd perhaps in my memoir too Marian. I think it\’s okay to use the term when describing an event, and offering what we surmise out of the situation. After all, memoir is our truth and the way we deem the situation. 🙂
Another Thumbs Up for \”perhapsing.\” After all, we don\’t want to break into a million little pieces as James Frey did with his semi-fictional memoir.
Yes, lawn soiree does sound very quaint and French, especially in Pennsylvania Dutch country. Maybe Grandma\’s clique of friends was more sophisticated than I thought. Ha!
Lol. And yes, let us remember the \’Frey\’ 🙂
I suppose you are referring to the time when Oprah \”fried\” him on her show. Wow!
Marion, what a delight. This line grabbed me: \”Yes, excavating one’s family history leads to questions, some without clear answers.\” I feel this way even when trying to re-member times when I was there. What year was that? Who said what? I was sure I didn\’t take notes on my first trip to India in 1990, but found a small notebook with my writing describing events I hadn\’t remembered in that dream-like experience. The same holds true for my memories of my brother when I was a child.
I\’m grateful for \”perhapsing.\” It\’s necessary for most dialogue–and I like dialogue. Your paragraph from your manuscript is deliciously enticing. What happened to that innocent girl?
To respond to your question, after my brother\’s death, I went through a box of my mother\’s photos found and sent to me recently by her second husband\’s family. There were many old photos of my childhood and many of my brother. It\’s a treasure tinged with grief since I can\’t share them with my brother.
Your posts stand out from many other because of the dialogue. It brings the reader into your Now, a practice I am slowly learning.
Like you, I am rummaging through old photos and notes during the move. Recently, I un-earthed a packet of four journals from 1962-1967 stuffed into the bottom shelf of my bookcase. In one of them I found the exact date I met Cliff.The page contains the words \”fascination and wonder,\” ones I never used with other boy friends.
This is the season of loss of Mother now nearly two years ago. I definitely understand the \”treasure tinged with grief,\” finding childhood photos of your brother. Recently I found a photo of my sisters and brother lined up at the church following the funeral. We have wan smiles and sad eyes.
In my mother\’s photos, I found an image of my dad, my brother, and me. We look so sad. I kept looking at the date. 1955. Then I realized that we must have been going to my Grandpa\’s funeral. My dad looks like he\’s about to cry. We all do. Everyone loved Grandpa Ware, \”Pappy\”!
Even though I often am creating visually a few meters away while you are busy hammering out another blog, you tie in your family \”finds\” with research and tease our imagination with challenges and charm.
Aw, sweet! I wonder how we\’ll function in a new set-up in separate rooms, a month or two from now. Time will tell!
That is a wonderful old postcard.
Don\’t I know it!. Even though I\’ve photographed it, I\’m now sure I want to part with it. After all, it\’s flat and doesn\’t take up much space at all. Perhaps something to pass on to grandchildren.