The Potency of Postcards

The New York Review of Books had a wonderful article on “The Lost Art of Postcard Writing.”

I used to write postcards.

Now I Facetime or Skype. Not nearly as charming or as elegantly personal I’m afriaid.

I’ve always had the travel bug. As soon as started working I would save for a vacation. And when I’d travel I’d send postcards to every member of my family. My sisters were just beginning to have babies and no matter how young these babies were I would send each their own little postcard from wherever it was I was visiting.

California, Scotland, France, Greece, Italy, Ireland, Japan.

My nieces still have them saved in pretty little “memory boxes”.

As I write this I am on vacation. So I’ve taken it upon myself to send my youngest niece a postcard. An exotic image from some faraway land…even though I’m at a place anything but foreign. I wrote and told her all about my adventures whale watching and how my face got wonderfully sunburned.

On this vacation of mine, I stumbled upon the quaintest of used bookstores that, along with a plethora of well-loved volumes from the past, also possessed old postcards stored in shoeboxes that could be purchased for a few pennies.

The pictures were delightful, but the old handwriting was enchanting.

As I shuffled through the boxes I was drawn to cards whose pictures weren’t necessarily awe-inspiring, but whose notes seemed to hold a voice that had a story to tell.

Even if that story was only a line or two.

One card has a lovely painting of a couple who appear to be sweethearts. He has a satchel and an umbrella and is wearing gloves and an overcoat. In the background there is a coach and driver waiting to take him away. The man seems to be about to catch the coach and leave the woman he loves. She is not wearing a coat or a hat and no travelling gloves. She will be staying behind. The card is addressed to a “Miss Marjorie” and only says

“From your little sweetheart-” B. E. M.

A young man having to leave his lover in order to work?  Did they marry?  Did they stay in love?

A second card, dated 1910, is written in a desperate and unsettled voice it says

“Dear Beloved Cousins, at the late hour of 12 I could not retire without saying good night to you and asking our Heavenly Father to let Guardian Angels watch over you while you sleep & pray that you may not suffer through the night. Hope these lines may find you better and out of bed. Remember me to every member of your family.”

It’s a postcard picture of Dr. Lee’s Hospital in Rochester New York. It makes me wonder if the writer was a patient? A nurse? Or someone who has spent time at this hospital waiting for a loved one to recover…or to die?

My favourite postcard is from 1905. On the back, written in a cheeky tone is

“Dear Maud, This is you when you are old and grey of course. I don’t mean in your old maids room, for I think married or single you will always have a cat and teach it to be good. Love from B. C.

Is Maud B. C.’s sister? Friend?  On the front is an old crone seemingly scolding a kitty cat perched on the arm of her chair.

It’s somewhat bewitching to read the handwriting of those that have come before. And I can’t help but wonder how these postcards have found their way to a little used bookshop on Vancouver Island. It makes me wonder about all the postcards I’ve sent

and how many will escape the dust bin or the recycling center

and find their way, a century later,

to a little quaint shop by the sea.


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