Happy Birthday Grandmommy

I spent last weekend in Indiana, celebrating the 90th birthday of my grandmother, Mary Elizabeth Barnette, known affectionately as Grandmommy to her six grandchildren, and Mary Lib to everyone else.

Justin, Stephanie, and Grandmommy on her 90th Birthday
Justin and Stephanie with Grandmommy

At the party, my mother and her sisters brought out a captivating family heirloom: Grandmommy’s wedding scrapbook. It was filled with black and white photos of her wedding to my grandfather (Kenneth Ashel Barnette, who died before I was born) and their early married life in New York City. It probably contains enough fodder for a dozen stories, but one page in particular caught my attention: a stack of telegrams that well-wishers had sent on their wedding day. I had never seen a telegram before.

Telegrams from the wedding scrapbook of my Grandmother
Telegrams from Grandmommy’s wedding scrapbook

What blew my mind was that the text of the message had been printed on one long strip of paper. Which means it had once been someone’s job to cut the strip and glue each line down to form something that looked like a typed letter. It’s like the physical manifestation of email, circa 1946.

Telegram (up-close) from the wedding scrapbook of my Grandmother
A telegram, close-up

On another note, I thought I’d mention that today marks the 10th anniversary of my first blog post. Happy Birthday Justinsomnia!


What an amazing post, and great way to mark your decade blogging. You continue to amaze me. Did you happen to get any audio of Grandmommy? Oral history is important!

Not this trip. Grandmommy had always been a loquacious conversationalist (most of the time it was hard for anyone else to get a word in edgewise), but in recent years she’s grown quieter, more docile. Her steel trap memory isn’t want it used to be. However, her background as a journalist means that she’s left behind boxes upon boxes of written material. I’m guessing there’s probably some audio recordings in there as well.


Wonderful piece–I know your Grandmommy is proud of the writing you do. I believe your Aunt Betsey did some taping a while back with your Grandmother about some family stories. I still can’t get over that you had never seen a telegram before but what is so common place in one generation can be gone in the next. Communicating and documenting each passage of time is so important for the future generations. The stories add the depth, richness, and color to the facts of a particular era.
Love, Mom


Your grandmother is a very good looking person!!! i wish to look like here when i will be 70;-).

The thing that struck me the most about reading her telegrams is how similar they are to an email or text message (or tweet or Facebook status update) of today. People think, “Kids these days, they spend all their time texting—but they don’t know how to write a letter!” And yet here are our grandparents’ peers sending abbreviated, pithy wedding congratulations via the telegraph!


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