I have been on the lookout for an index card box for over a year. I wanted a metal box from the 1960s or 1970s like the one I had as a boy. I’ve seen a few on Etsy but I was never compelled to purchase. A few months ago I found what I wanted locally, on Craig’s List. I contacted the seller and he said he had just moved and could not locate the box. He promised to contact me as soon as he unpacked it. He never did.
Today I made my rounds to the nearby Goodwill stores and found two boxes of “resume” paper and an unopened box of watermarked #10 envelopes. I always buy this type of paper (and envelopes) when I find it so I have something decent to feed into my typewriter. Most of the time the paper I find is manufactured by Southworth and it is 100% cotton with “The difference you can see and feel.” - and a real watermark. I was taught to always orient the paper so the watermark was right-side up and read left to right. The feel and heft of cotton paper is savory and it accepts ink well. On the back of the paper boxes the Southworth company poses this question: “What message does your document convey?”
Today I added the Clock Tower thrift shop to my Saturday thrift shop circuit. I don’t visit this shop often because it looks like someone removed the roof of the building and dumped all the merchandise from the sky. It requires supernatural skill and a can-do attitude to navigate its cluttered aisles but it is thrilling to go inside because one never knows what one might find.
Eureka! I found three metal index card boxes. The first was hiding in plain view and I knew there had to be at least two more somewhere because the one I found was labeled “ADDRESS CARDS H - R”. I had found one box of a series. I started digging and I found to medium-sized plastic bins full of old, unused postcards, someone’s post card collection. Buried among the post cards was another metal index box labeled “ADDRESS CARDS S - Z” and another labeled “ADDRESS CARDS A - G”. I had found the set.
I could tell by the weight of the index boxes that they were full. I opened each to discover hundreds of typewritten index cards with the names of people and businesses, addresses, and phone numbers on each. I purchased the three boxes and took them home with me.
Once I was home, I began with the box labeled “A - G”, and removed all the cards and read each one making sure to return them to the box in same order. As I read these cards I felt like an archeologist hunched over a “dig” in Pompeii. The words on the card became a person. But who? The format of the cards was painstakingly consistent, not an easy task with a typewriter. Many of the cards had detailed notes on the front and the back. Information about doctor’s visits, automobiles, lawn mowers, vacuum cleaners, and guns purchased. There were cards for elected officials, hospitals, and medicine (Neosporin) - including the usage instructions. On one card were the details of a car that was ordered: “June 12, 1970: Ordered 1970 Volkswagon Model 1132, Type sedan, Color White, Serial No. _______”, even the salesman’s name. In the interval from A to Z I noticed the typeface changed a few times indicating the author used more than one typewriter during the course of his life. And many of the cards had the date typed at the bottom. Most were from the 1970s and 1980s.
One of the most exciting things I found was in the box labeled “ADDRESS CARDS H - R”. In this box, filed randomly(?), under the letter “I”, was a hand-written note on a scrap of paper which read: “went to Bruce Springsteen concert + am spending the night w/ Debbie _______. [seven digit phone number] (Remember those?) Am not going to work tomorrow.” I concluded this note was written by a daughter of the owner of this box and he or she chose to keep it in their card index.
I realized I hadn’t just found three vintage metal index card boxes. I had been given a glimpse of someone’s life in these boxes. The words on the index cards became clues which became a man, and then a man named J.F. ______. He raised his kids in Springfield, Virginia. I found the address of his home. He lived adjacent to a golf course which, along with other clues I found, indicate this man was a professional and likely lived a comfortable lifestyle. It seems he was a Republican, worked for a railroad, travelled quite a bit to include Hilton Head, South Carolina and Atlanta, Georgia. He had at least two children one or both of which had been students at the University of Virginia. I also concluded this man is dead.
It saddens me to discover this forgotten part of this man’s legacy was dropped from the sky and was lost among the clutter of a thrift shop in Falls Church, Virginia. However it is uplifting to know he used a typewriter and paper to fill these boxes with permanence. His typewritten cards, his documents, an autobiographical eulogy of a man, a husband, a father who lived his life the only way he knew how and the best he could. I ask you: “What message does your document convey?”
p.s. I wanted these boxes to store my index cards, my documents, but I’ve decided I must respectfully close these boxes with no further disturbance.