My father had many qualities, some good, some bad. One of them I like to remember him by was his unusual sense of humor. That’s why I keep one of the birthday cards he sent to me nearly twenty years ago when he was still going strong in his eighties.
On the front cover are two people. One on the left is a man eating a bowl of ice cream covered with chocolate sauce and sporting a cherry on the top, looking a little guilty. On the right, next to him is a trim woman with longish hair chomping on a carrot. In small print it reads “SOY” and “WHEAT GERM” on a table in front of her.
Above the two people it reads: “Happy Birthday!”
Below it reads:
“Do you know why people who eat health food are so slim and trim?”
(Card opens up):
“Because health food tastes like shit.”
In small print in all caps at the bottom, in parentheses it reads: “Enjoy your birthday cake!” – Dad
I laugh every time I read this card. It’s especially funny because he manufactured healthy snack foods like soy nuts, granolas, sunflower seeds.
Humor permeates mementoes, letters, greeting cards and advertisements I have saved over the years. The power of words, oral or print have always been of interest. Keepsakes that are humorous are a good counter measure today considering the eco-anxiety experienced around climate change, and climate denier Donald Trump threatening to run again.
One other keepsake was a photograph of the marketing communications department at Data General circa 1980. The original group of eight including the director – five men wearing button down long sleeve white or blue shirts and ties, and three women dressed in colorful print dresses are posed together for a group shot. Four of us sat in folding chairs and four others stood behind them.
The funny part was that each of us posed for the shot wearing the same Groucho Marx glasses, oversized mustache, latex nose and fuzzy eyebrows. I remember driving into Boston to Jack’s Joke Shop near the Commons to pick up and pay for eight Groucho Marx plastic disguises (and add them to my expense report).
I found a variation of the same schtick in a small black and white advertisement (that I’d kept) a few years later clipped from New England Ad Week called “Getting Ahead in Business”. It showed one Al Pirozzoli, the company president of a Connecticut advertising agency InComm, Inc. standing with fourteen staff members each holding a paddle with the likeness of the boss covering his or her face. The caption read that this group photograph proves the old saying that people who get ahead in business tend to resemble the boss. Mr. Pirozzoli expressed “pleasure at the family image” projected by the agency personnel.
There’s also a typed letter I received when I turned fifty from a longtime friend from my college years. The letter is headlined “Crossing the River Styx” and it’s contents is as relevant today as it was twenty years ago. I was speaking with this friend and told him of my “saving affliction”. He confided in me that he’s the same way and considers himself a sentimental slob.
These are just a few of the goods that make up my own private time capsule. My cache includes creative expressions that remind me of times past and people I knew. These memories define where I’ve been and who I am.
Psychologists and neuropsychologists who study memory know that visual and auditory cues are all that’s needed to trigger a whole boatload of memories from the past: be it a chance encounter with a person at a cafe visited in France, the whiff of brisket or cup of coffee.
I’ve been fortunate to travel and collect cultural items from my travels too. Old maps, advertisements, menus, business cards, a letter or card too remind me of people, places and things enjoyed. It’s a reminder to look for and savor life’s journey, and to not take life so seriously all the time. My roots are in being creative and resourceful and I don’t want to forget those times. I want to savor them again and again.