Saturday, February 14, 2009

Happy Hallma..... oops.... Valentine's Day

I hope you all had lots of tokens of affection from your nearest and dearest and/or a few secret admirers.

Whether or not valentines should be anonymous was the topic of conversation in the local greetings card shop when I went in a few weeks ago. I wanted to buy a birthday card but there were very few on display as the whole shop was filled with cards, teddy bears, balloons and other items - all red and heart-shaped - devoted to Valentine's Day.

The shop owner, a young man around 40 years old, sighed as he looked around at the displays of cards to husbands, wives, partners, lovers, friends, mothers, step-mothers, neighbours, grandchildren, great-grandmas and every other title it had been possible to think up. "I don't think of myself as old but I'm sure that when I was a boy, valentines were given anonymously to girls you fancied. I didn't give my mother or sister one." This from a man who makes a living from selling cards.

So, is it all the fault of Hallmark? I decided to
look a little further and, in fact, I didn't have to look very far. I have a collection of postcards that my grandfather, Michael John Graham, sent from France during the Great War and there I found three cards sent for 14 February 1917. I love these embroidered silk cards with their muddy smudges. I wonder where he was when he wrote them, what he had seen and heard and endured. He would never talk about the war years.

Some of the cards have little pockets with even smaller cards inside, some have lost these personal messages as has this one addressed to my grandmother, Mary Anne
, although there is no subtlety about the identity of the sender.
This one is addressed simply to 'John', my father, who would have been approaching his fifth birthday in February 1917. I bet he loved the colours which are still vivid ninety-two years on.
My favourite is this card with a mixture of embroidered and dried flowers, sent to his two year old daughter. The cards addressed to Katie are the only ones in the collection with personal messages. I find them very moving, as my memories of my grandfather are of a very quiet, brooding sort of man who never spoke to us children.
Well, it looks as if Hallmark are not to blame for the commercialisation of Valentine's Day after all. Do you think it was those French embroiderers?


  1. I love these embroidered cards - my mother has a lovely collection sent to her mother by my grandfather from the trenches. So precious. How many of today's cards will be treasured for so long down the generations? Thanks so much for sharing these poignant treasures from your family's history.

  2. They are really lovely, aren't they, J? Mine are very fragile and most of them have muddy thumb prints on them but the embroidery is still intact and the colours quite stunning.

    As I said in my post, my grandfather never spoke to me, even though we visited every week and he lived with us for the four weeks that he survived after my grandmother died. I was astounded when I found he had left me the postcard collection. My father said that he loved to listen to me 'prattling on'.

  3. I love these. What treasures you have, Maureen. Oh, so wonderful. I have one from my father to my mother I plan to post today.


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