Sometimes, the strangest things find their way into storage. We’ve just spent a year going through all the cherished items Agnes Tully Stevens kept for decades—in some cases, letters from over one hundred years ago, passed down to her from her mother.
Somehow, with a stack of memorabilia of such personal significance, my expectations for those papers we’ve yet to encounter remain high. Higher, that is, than the page I’ve pulled out of the stack for today’s exhibit.
With a name penciled in so faintly that it may be too indistinct to make out in the scanned replica, I present to you the subject of this post: a Bunco card.
The cardboard tag comes complete with instructions on the reverse to “Detach and save this coupon.” It was provided “compliments Jones & Baumrucker, Jewelers, House of Personal Service.” Someone had written “Lill Tulley” in the space designated “Name.”
I suppose it was for the informational value that Agnes extracted the card from her sister Lil’s belongings. The card included both a list of each month’s birthstones and the traditional gifts to buy for each year’s anniversary celebration.
It was most likely not kept for any sentimental notion shared between the two sisters. Which stops me short in the process of drawing up a personal family history: what to make of maiden aunts?
When we take the time to pursue our ancestral heritage, we follow the usual genealogical prompts: dates of birth, marriage, death. List the father and mother of each child—which conversely means: list the children of each person in our family tree.
But not all of our ancestors got married. Not everyone had children of their own.
And yet, following our genealogical prompts, we list people based on their tally: this one married so-and-so; that one had eight—count ’em, eight!—children.
And for the ones who didn’t marry? What about the ones with no children?
They suddenly lose their place in the parade of ancestors. They get marginalized. Genealogy is, after all, the study of whose genes got passed down by whom.
And there goes Aunt Lil. Someone equated with a cipher. Who knows something about someone like that if no one is left to pass her story down?
I never met Aunt Lil, of course, but frankly, I have no tradition to draw upon to put mental “flesh” upon her ancestral bones. I have no pictures, no stories. Just names on pages of census records. I know who her sisters and brother are—I know, mostly, because they all had children. People who could carry their memory along. Because they knew their stories, those memories would be kept alive for another generation.
I guess I thought of Aunt Lil as someone frozen in time. Someone who only moved or responded enough to register on each decade’s census report, then resume her pose, frozen in the still-life portrait of history. Lil showed in the census reports through 1900 as “at school” and then as stenographer in the office of a can factory for 1910 and 1920. She showed no occupation whatsoever in 1930. I can’t even find her listed in the 1940 census—yet. What she did with the rest of her life outside those designations is an enigma to me.
Surely she had some time off from work! Somehow, because I don’t know anything about what occupied her time, I assume the mistaken notion that she didn’t really have a life outside of those sterile, bare facts on a census report.
While I may never learn anything more about this woman, I know one thing: Aunt Lil played Bunco.
January: Garnet—ConstancyFebruary: Amethyst—Sincerity
March: Aqua Marine—Courage
December: Turquoise/Lapis Lazuli—Prosperity
Wedding AnniversariesFirst Year Paper
Second Year Calico
Third Year Muslin
Fourth Year Silk
Fifth Year Wood
Sixth Year Iron
Seventh Year Copper
Eighth Year Bronze
Ninth Year Pottery
Tenth Year Tin
Fifteenth Year Crystal
Twentieth Year China
Twenty-Fifth Year Silver
Thirtieth Year Pearl
Thirty-Fifth Year Coral
Fortieth Year Ruby
Forty-Fifth Year Sapphire
Fiftieth Year Gold
Seventy-Fifth Year Diamond