The memory keeper: Dellene Gudger’s scrapbooks include many personal histories
Dellene Gudger isn’t a historian in the traditional sense, but she is quite the memory keeper.
The guest bedroom inside her Salisbury home includes a small desk flanked on each side by giant bookshelves that hold dozens of scrapbooks.
A ceramic cat-shaped tape dispenser and handmade coffee mug filled with pens rest atop the wooden desk, where the 76-year-old can be found working on her next scrapbook.
“If I get started on one, I can’t stop,” she said. “I’ll do it all day and all night.”
The desk is also the resting place for the annotated bibliography Gudger has created to help guide her to specific scrapbooks.
“If I want to find my grandson’s birth, I just look here and see which number scrapbook it’s in,” she said. “I love to collect things, but I do so decently and in order like a good Presbyterian.”
Most of the scrapbooks contain typical things like photographs, greeting cards and family trees.
But others include more obscure items like the wool Christmas stockings Gudger gave her parents one year, ration books from World War II and magazine advertisements for diets – her father watched his figure after being one of the first in the country to undergo open heart surgery.
A few of the scrapbooks stored in the attic contain silly mementos like used cigarette butts and candy wrappers.
“I only have a few cigarette butts, from people I admired,” Gudger said with a chuckle.
Gudger has been skillfully crafting scrapbooks for more than 60 years. Her first ones include photographs of high school friends with their nicknames scribbled above each one.
“I was on the annual staff, so I took all the pictures we didn’t use,” she said.
Those high school scrapbooks often make appearances during reunions, Gudger said.
“I love to share them and people just marvel at how much fun we used to have,” she said.
The scrapbook Gudger calls her masterpiece is a compilation of items her husband, Frank, kept stored in the trunk of his car until the couple married almost 31 years ago. With a spine measuring about 4 inches wide, it includes photos, newspaper clippings and various sentimental items that had been tucked away throughout the years.
“I started with his parents and went all the way back to his roots,” Gudger said. “He was one of 10 children, so I took every child and highlighted their life.
“This really is his life, there is even a photo from his first morning of retirement.”
Gudger said the Frank’s scrapbook has been helpful when she plans a large birthday party for him. The next one will be the big 100 in two years.
“I only do something big every five years,” she said. “I make a big display with different items from his life and people love it.”
Gudger’s other pride and joy was the scrapbook she made for her parents back in 1967.
“I’m an only child and my parents moved back to town to be near me,” she said. “I went to their house one day and every drawer was stuffed full of history.
“I pulled it all out and let my mother know I was going to make a scrapbook.”
The first two pages of that scrapbook include childhood photos of her mother and father with a heading that says “Once upon a time there was a little boy who met a little girl.” The book also include personal letters written by her father along with articles he cut out over the years.
Gudger suspects she inherited her love of collecting things from them.
“When I was growing up, my daddy would open up a trunk and it would be full of antique treasures and trinkets,” she said. “People don’t understand why we kept everything, but they were treasures to us.
“We’re a throwaway society now and it makes a big difference.”
For the grandchildren
Each of Gudger’s four grandchildren have scrapbooks that she’s been working on since before they were born. Her oldest, who is 17 years old, has seven different ones.
“They start with the pregnant mother,” she said. “I write letters to them each time after I see them sharing my impressions.”
The scrapbooks include things such as the plane tickets Gudger used to fly out for visits and coloring pages they did for her.
“I’ve got everything they’ve done when they come to see me or I go see them,” she said.
Gudger said she gave the scrapbooks to all but two of her grandchildren when she moved to Hidden Creek several years ago.
“We had to downsize,” she said. “I kept the ones for my grandchildren who live in Colorado because they love to come back here and look at all these albums to see what they were like when they were younger.”
Along with each of the scrapbooks, Gudger has kept journals for each of her grandchildren that provide details about her life.
“I wanted to make some kind of connection with the next generation,” she said. “I want them to remember me as a person and what I stand for.
“I think they’ll appreciate them one day.”
Some of the scrapbooks Gudger makes are just for her own enjoyment. One of those includes photos and notes from when she was the activities director at the Lutheran Home.
“I loved it,” she said. “I have all of the rosters for the first residents who were there.”
The scrapbooks that hold the memories from cross-country road trips are some of Gudger’s favorites.
“We had a custom-made mattress for our Buick Roadmaster and I made it up like a bed,” she said. “We carried a food box and ice crest and every third day we stayed at a campground; a lot of them were in national parks.”
Thanks to meticulous record keeping, Gudger knows exactly how much the couple spent on each trip.
“We were able to do most of them on $100 a day for both of us, but that was back in the ‘80s; you couldn’t do that today,” she said.
Their trips include a 34-day tour of the Southeast, 39-day adventure in the Northwest and a 28-day stint exploring the east coast and Nova Scotia.
The pair has also driven 8,000 miles across the country, rarely taking interstates.
“Whatever there is, we like to see as much as we can,” she said. “We’re interested in businesses, we’re interested in the history of the area.”
Gudger said the scrapbooks from their travels are particularly meaningful now that Frank, who turned 98 last week, can no longer hit the road.
“He is very physically fit for his age, but he stays in a lot, particularly during the winter,” she said. “On rainy, dreary, cold days I say ‘Let’s take a trip again, where do you want to go?’
“I logged what we did and what we ate every day, so we’ll sit in the kitchen and relive it all over again.”
Gudger said she hopes to start giving away some of the travel scrapbooks to teachers who might be able to use them in their classrooms.
“As Ecclesiastes says there’s a time to gather and a time to give away,” she said. “This is the time to give away.”
Scrapbooking got more serious in the Gudger household when Frank started building grandfather clocks from scratch. He’s completed 19 over the years.
But the roles are reversed now as he looks for ways to fill time while Dellene works on her projects.
Frank’s recently taken up carving small wooden figurines in the shapes of animals such as monkeys.
Gudger spends the entire year gathering photos and mementos for her scrapbooks.
“I throw everything for the year in a box and at the end of it I organize it according to month,” she said. “I always do it at the beginning of the next year.”
But the scrapbooks don’t just include personal items.
“They are made up of the whole town history,” she said.
That includes newspaper clippings of historical events and obituaries marking the deaths of prominent Saliburians such as former mayors and longtime Post columnist Rose Post.
Gudger said her scrapbooks don’t just sit on the self.
“I look at them all the time,” she said. “We don’t have a lot of money, but we have a lot of memories.”
Contact reporter Sarah Campbell at 704-797-7683 or email@example.com.