When my parents downsized last year, moving into a smaller cottage house, my Dad handed me three giant plastic baggies of 200+ matches he’d collected over the years.
“You can probably figure out something to do with these,” he said.
And when I saw those matches, I saw stories — a lifetime of traveling, memories and moments.
My Dad has been collecting matches since he was an eight-year-old kid in Hatfield, Pennsylvania. Becoming an Air Force captain in the ’60s, he traveled all over the world while he was stationed in Wiesbaden, Germany, and, later, as a water utilities executive in the U.S. So, like many, he snatched up these free, end-of-the-meal souvenirs — here and abroad.
“Everyone smoked back then so there were always matchbooks at the hotel checkout desk, in restaurants,” Dad says. “I started collecting them for no particular reason,” he pauses. “Well, looking back on it maybe sentimental reasons.”
Each matchbook jogs a memory for my dad, like a physical diary entry and a window into his past.
Here are bits from a father/ daughter conversation about just a few these cardboard gems.
Trexler Park Canned Foods — 1940s or 50s
Me: You know Dad, some of these matchbooks are now worth money. I just looked on eBay and these particular matches go for $6.69.
Dad: That’s amazing. They sell anything on these damn sites.
Me: Were you a kid when you got this one?
Dad: Must have been. Trexler Park was a popular line of canned foods. My grandfather Ike had a general store and bought inventory from Trexler — back in those days everything was canned. No frozen food; good fresh fruits and vegetables weren’t as common. So it could have been in his store or at home. Ike was a big pipe and cigar smoker. He always had a little smoking table next to his wing-backed chair in his living room — he had pipe racks, a tobacco humidor, ashtrays. Or maybe I got them from my Dad who was also a smoker.
Me: Dad, you never smoked. In fact you hate smoking. Kinda funny that you collect these matchbooks.
Dad: Even back then it was considered not healthy. We used to joke, “How about having another spike in your coffin?”
The Mayfair, Colorado Springs — 1950s
Me: These are simply cool looking.
Dad: Yeah, but there’s no story here. It was a new building at the time. A motor hotel — not typical. I was first stationed in the air force in Colorado Springs and travelled around there quite a bit. Didn’t you find matches from the Broadmoor?
Dad: If you wanted to impress your date, you took them to the Broadmoor for dinner. And then when Mom and I got married and we were trying to figure out where to go on a honeymoon, we didn’t have a lot of time [because he was being sent overseas to Germany]. So I thought, what about the Broadmoor? I might have gotten those matchbooks when your mom and I were on our honeymoon, or when I was on a date with someone other than Mom……
Me: Okay, NEXT.
Kajplats 9, Stockholm — 1960s
Me: This one says Stockholm on the back?
Dad: I’m not sure where those are from, but maybe that was the restaurant where I got this great linen placemat of an illustrated horse — it shows all the different parts of the horse in Swedish — I still have it on my bar. There was a horse stable there as well.
Mom and I went there with Gramp [my grandfather] and Margit [my grandmother — and namesake— who passed away before I was born]. They’d come over to visit us in Germany. We took them on a car trip through Northern Europe and one of the destinations was Landskrona, a tiny village in Sweden where Margit’s family was from. When we arrived, surprising them at their tiny apartment, her relatives were shocked to see us. We went into Stockholm and spent a couple of days sightseeing and one night went to this restaurant. It was about the only time I ever saw Gramp tipsy. Margit was thrilled to visit with her relatives and everyone was in a celebratory mood. Gramp said, “Well Will [my Dad], I guess when in Sweden do as the Swedes do,” so he ordered Aquavit served straight up in two ounce shot glasses followed by beer chasers. I don’t know that Mom and Margit had any, but they giggled because we got red-faced and jovial.
Years later, in the early ‘90s, I was over there on business and thought, I wonder if that restaurant is still around? So a business partner and I took a taxi out there. Sure enough it was still there and so the two of us had dinner. It was as I remember except the cloth horse placemats were now paper. [Dad goes downstairs to his bar to read me the name of the restaurant. It’s completely different from the name of the restaurant on the matches.] Mardshuset Stallma Plaz Garden.
Me: No, that’s not it.
Dad: Well, it makes for a good story anyway.
Hotel Lancaster, Paris — 1962/63
Dad: Mom and I had just been married a few years at that point, living in Wiesbaden, Germany. I was a US Air Force Captain assigned to NATO, and NATO’s headquarters, at that point, were in Paris. So we’d often make the 10-hour drive over from Germany to Paris in our little Mercedes 190 SL for a long weekend. The Lancaster was small, nothing super fancy, but a great location on the [Champs-Élysées]. They were these quaint older rooms with French doors that opened on to the balcony. I have a picture of Mom in the balcony with the Eiffel Tower in the background. Just the perfect view. And then later on, de Gaulle threw NATO out because he was against weapons. He didn’t want any nuclear weapons on French soil. And so they moved to Brussels and I started going to Brussels.
21 West — 1970s
Me: Oh we used to go there all the time!
Dad: Yes, it was a bistro-style restaurant owned by Mary Fretz.
Me: It was a take off on New York’s 21 right?
Dad: Yes, Mary used to go to New York for shows and modeled it after the New York restaurant. It was right below my office in Chestnut Hill [Philadelphia]. You’d take your crayons and coloring books up there, and then we’d go downstairs for lunch. They had good omelets and huge cheeseburgers to die for — about half a pound with bacon and blue cheese. Artery cloggers. I used to take you there when Mom wasn’t well.
Me: When mom had breast cancer.
Dad: Yes, I did a lot of taking care of you kids at that time. You were very young, about five years old maybe? And you always had the same thing? Do you remember?
Me: I remember the cheesecake.
Dad: You had an egg salad sandwich.
Me: Oh I love those! Now I remember.
Dad: You always had perfect manners and a nice conversation with Mary, the waitresses and the hostess. They were always thrilled when I brought you in there. I hated to see that place close…
I hope to keep going, there are so many more matchbooks to discuss. I’ve even threatened to make a Tumblr of each one and chronicle the memories — if only for my own edification and a great conversation with my Dad.
“By the way Margit,” my father adds. “I also have a bigger, more interesting swizzle stick collection, but I haven’t given that to you yet.”