THIS MORNING I woke with the memory that last year I stumbled across a series of telegrams my great-grandmother, Ida Mayer Cummings, had carefully saved in a massive scrapbook, a treasure trove that is literally bursting at the seams with years of fascinating letters, newspaper clippings, photos and memorabilia.
As we are nearing Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, I was sure there would be at least a couple of holiday telegrams to be found. And I was right!
To start my search, I carefully lifted the scrapbook out of its special box, where it is stored in my best attempt to stave off the ravages of temperature and humidity changes, and laid it out on the dining room table.
Almost every inch of every page is covered with a variety of fascinating items, which makes it the perfect way to lose hours without even trying, but it also means that each page is heavy and awkward to handle. The paper is also over 80 years old, although in remarkable condition. Still, I am just my generation’s steward for these precious things – these pages are not being destroyed on my watch…
So I flipped gently through the pages and came across telegrams of all kinds: birthday wishes, congratulations, informational notes, and apologetic messages of the ‘sorry I can’t make it’ type. I kept going carefully, carefully – resisting an intense urge, like an itch, to stop and read whole articles and pull letters out of personally monogrammed envelopes.
Lo and behold, there were Rosh Hashanah telegrams dotted throughout the scrapbook, including the one above from my great uncle, Louis B. Mayer, to his sister (and my great-grandmother), Ida.
Well, if we know anything about L.B., we know exactly what he was doing at 11:35pm on Saturday 25th, 1936: phoning in a Rosh Hashanah telegram to his local Western Union office.
Interestingly, Western Union had at least a handful of themed headings for this high holiday, as you can see from the other telegrams Ida saved. By the way, my dear friend Brandeis University professor, film historian and author, Thomas Doherty, wondered if WU offered such a service for St. Patrick’s Day, at least as big a deal for Catholics in Boston in 1936, as Rosh Hashanah was for Jews in Los Angeles. Sadly, it doesn’t appear so, but if you have any squirreled away in your family’s things, let me know. Poor TD was deeply disappointed!
I think I’ll have to keep the scrapbook out for the weekend so that I can sit down, now and again, and flip through the pages. If you don’t hear from me for a few days, come snap me out of my scrapbook-induced trance!
Meantime, from my family to yours – 80 years later – Shana Tova!