Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Alma Boss: The Ghost of Christmases Past

Last year I had a minor obsession with Alma Boss - a woman who lived in Kansas City in the 1920s-1940s. She's not a relative, I've never met her, there's no information about her on the usual internet resources . . . So, why does this Christmas make me think of her? Because I spent hours last fall with her scrapbook. In anticipation of Christmas decorating, I won a large scrapbook on eBay that was filled with vintage Christmas cards. My plan was to make a garland with cards from the '20s and '30s for our mantel (the garland turned out really well, but that's another story).

The scrapbook was somewhat intact although rather worn - lots of brittle pages barely held together (I don't have pics of it - you know how it is in the Pre-Blog World- you don't photograph every mundane detail of life . . .). Some of the cards were loose, but many were still glued to the yellowed paper and in the process of removing these from the scrapbook and sorting through the almost-three decades of cards, I developed an affection for Alma and for vintage cards.

The cards from the 1920s are just cards - no fold-overs. Many have vivid colors and are hand-bordered in gold. The 1930s cards are mostly folded with those distinctive graphics that are reminiscent of old film titles.

Animals are a popular theme on the '30s cards - or perhaps it's not a trend, but a reflection of Alma's pet doggie?

The cards from the '40s are especially poignant - like this one sent just days or weeks after the Pearl Harbor attack.

As I worked to undo Alma's careful gluing, I wondered about her life. Like most of us, she received cards from many of the same people year after year. I started to recognize the names on the cards - relatives who shared the surname Boss, friends whose cards reflected their marriages and growing families, possible beaus. Some people like the Madsens below had expensive cards with their names imprinted. Others wrote chatty notes, one especially funny one from a female cousin tells Alma to "get married if you want to gain weight - I now weigh 180 ha ha" - who would write that today? (Or perhaps it was a passive-aggressive insult during the lean depression years?)

There are so many intriguing people between the pages of Alma's scrapbook - like her friend Opal Howard who faithfully sent Christmas and birthday cards for over twenty years, including this card below that appears to be hand-painted. Inside is simply her name written in plain calligraphy. Her cards show that she eventually married and then did not have time to paint her own cards!
I also found the Klein family interesting - for about 10 years Joe Klein always sent Alma a Christmas card. Then he married and he and Mrs. Klein sent the Happy New Year card seen below (note the Hebrew phrase). This was the last card from the Kleins to Alma . . .

Alma's scrapbook also contains birth announcements - a few with heartbreaking notes of the child's subsequent death. As you would expect, she preserved birthday, get well, and cards for other holidays. And on a more personal note, Alma appears to have had a love interest named Jack. He sent the card below which must have been more humorous then than now . . .

What's not visible in the photo is that Alma wrote his name 'Jackson' in the bottom right corner. There are probably 40 cards from Jack - Christmas, Easter, Birthdays, Valentines. He always signed the cards 'Jack', but Alma frequently noted his name as 'Jackson' - perhaps she felt the nickname Jack was too casual or undignified? Perhaps this is why he remained a beau for twenty years? It's obvious they had a close relationship because most of the cards have little notes or references that are meaningless to outsiders - we can only guess what he meant when he signed as 'The Hi Hat' or 'Your X Sheik' or modified a card meant for a Boss to read Bossy (again, perhaps a clue to their relationship)!

For Easter he always sent flowers as recorded by Alma on the cards. Tulips were a favorite and thanks to Alma's meticulous notes we know how many he sent and the colors. So, what happened with Alma and Jack? As I unpacked the cards again this year, I was reminded of their story. Did they marry? Was there another scrapbook that chronicled Alma's later life? What happened to all her friends? How did her scrapbook end up at an estate sale and then on eBay? I may never know what happened to Alma, but I can enjoy her beautiful Christmas cards and hope she'd approve of them decorating our mantel . . .


  1. Wow, Leah. You bought a treasure! I have a friend where i last lived that inherited her Uncle's Christmas Card collection. It had been categorized and labeled throughout the years. She and her family had gone through and picked their favorites. Later, she let me have what I wanted. I should've picked a lot more! I have several Scottie dog cards even before we had Buddy. He's a relative of the Scottie. I have several that look very similar to yours. I'm anxious to see the garland you made. Very fun treasure.
    Karen @ Elderberry Street

  2. Karen - How great to get cards from a friend's family, and to get Scottie dogs that are almost like your dog (who's very cute, by the way!).
    Thanks for stopping by,


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