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?