Here’s why every family needs a scrapbook

Tom WestA couple of months ago, a cousin gave me five scrapbooks. My reaction was to be gracious on the outside, but thinking on the inside that  I don’t need any more “stuff” like that.

A couple of weeks ago, I finally got around to looking at them, and now I’m glad I got to see them. The scrapbooks were assembled by my grandmother, I think, perhaps with help from one of my aunts. I concluded they contain every scrap of newsprint in which our branch of the family tree appeared.

Here was an Associated Press photo from post-World War II Japan in which my Uncle Jim, a U.S. Army M.P. at the time, is escorting Japanese Emperor Hirohito.

Adjacent to it was a newspaper article he wrote a few years later for his hometown paper, describing in some detail some of the combat he had experienced in the Korean War.

The next page had a story from the St. Paul Dispatch announcing that my Uncle Dan had been wounded in the battle for Cherbourg, France, shortly after D-Day.

Still another had a story about how my cousin Mark, Jim’s son, had been injured in Vietnam.

Scrapbooking has made a big comeback in recent years. It’s now a $2.5 billion industry, and 30 percent of all U.S. households have someone keeping a scrapbook. I was glad that my grandmother had taken the time to record the family’s history.

I made a few scrapbooks as a kid, but that was different. My first attempts were to capture the press clippings of the Minnesota Golden Gopher football team in the years just prior and during their Rose Bowl trips 50 years ago.

A few years later, my mother encouraged me to make scrapbooks of my less than stellar high school athletic career. As a result, I can now wow classmates at reunions by remembering the scores of games when they can’t even remember who won.

My grandmother’s scrapbook was full of clippings of weddings, births, obituaries, confirmations, the usual benchmarks of people’s lives.

But the nuggets were the other items that my grandmother chose to include. — like the real estate listings for the houses that a member of the family lived in, including the big, old house my grandparents bought in St. Paul in 1942. The price for the four-bedroom home was $15,000.

I saw photos of my grandmother, as president of a hospital auxiliary presenting a new electric-powered bed to the local hospital, of a cousin dressed up for a Crazy Daze sale, of my brother with other Boy Scouts upon their return from the 1953 National Jamboree in California.

But if one story stood out, it was of all the support my grandfather received when he was involuntarily retired at age 71 as Minnesota state veterinarian in 1959. (Age-discrimination laws were non-existent back then.)

My grandfather served in that capacity for 17 years, diligently working on public health issues. Today, no one even knows what undulant fever is, but it was a disease called brucellosis or Bang’s Disease when found in cattle,  and was easily transmitted to humans. It was called “undulant” because the symptoms came and went in waves of fever, sweats, muscle and back pain. You haven’t heard of it because in 1957, Minnesota became the seventh state in the nation to become brucellosis free.

My grandfather implemented a statewide testing program, similar to another program already under way to eradicate bovine tuberculosis. The testing programs were controversial because infected herds led to the slaughtering of livestock, causing economic hardship for the cattle owners. That was outweighed, however, by the benefit in public health.

Governor Orville Freeman, first elected in 1954, tried to oust my grandfather, and finally got the job done five years later over protests from publications including the St. Paul Pioneer Press and Hoard’s Dairyman. Some said the governor had packed the state Livestock Sanitary Board, for which my grandfather was executive secretary, with political appointees.

Regardless, when it all happened, he was just my Grandpa “Doc.” It was only through the scrapbooks that I or anyone else in the family younger than me would have known the details.

If you haven’t already, I’d suggest you start a scrapbook for your family today. Family history may seem ho-hum when it happens, but it’s priceless to later generations.

Tom West is the editor and general manager of the Peach. He can be reached at (320) 352-6569 or by e-mail at tom.west@ecm-inc.com.

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