When my children were younger I watched with fascination as they developed collections. Matchbox cars. Star Wars figurines. Stuffed animals and baseball cards. A shelf of Tin Tin books for the oldest, ceramic cats the fascination of my daughter. Later baseball hats filled shelves as did a rainbow of nail polish. But even as I encouraged and often funded their collections I wasn’t interested in acquiring one of my own. In one botched attempt I dutifully declared I would begin with lighthouses and to prove my devotion I held out a 3 inch reproduction, the very one they had given me after a trip they had taken (without me) to Maine. I assured them I adored lighthouses and someday soon this one would be surrounded by many. They looked pleased with my resolve.
My small lighthouse reproduction sat on a window sill in the kitchen, alone, for years, and I never did add to it. Yes, I love the regal isolationism, the dedication to assisting wayward mariners, regardless, I didn’t traipse around to acquire more to adore my sill.
What did happen, somewhat organically, was a collection of postcards. For years, every time I went anywhere for a night or two, I purchased a few cards and sent them to people I imagined might appreciate a glimpse of my sights, like my grandmother or elderly neighbor. If I was gone longer I would send one to my parents or children left at home. I found I not only loved finding the right vista but I enjoyed writing in the small square. I loved the one or two lines captured by the card itself: the crafting, the exactness, the story. For many years, postcards were the only place I let myself write with a flare. With my own voice.
I equally loved receiving postcards. For several years I tucked them in odd drawers or stowed the cards away with old papers. Postcards from my brothers’ various excursions. Cards written in block letters from my children while at camp. Even my own cards sent home to family while I was away. Each one resounded of adventure. New worlds. Places I loved or hoped to see one day. Each evoked an awakening and with that sudden appreciation my notion to seriously collect was born. I decided to gather all my postcards together. Grant them the respect they deserved.
In its infant stage I could hold all my postcards in one small but wide basket. It was tucked away next to a book case but I could easily flip through from time to time and revisit the palm-tree adorned beach or night-time cityscape. As the years went on, I campaigned for postcards. Oh, I’d say to a friend or colleague about to leave for vacation, you know I collect postcards, right!?! To my children there would be multiple reminders, as they were boarding a bus with their school club or hopping a plane to visit faraway relatives, remember to send me a postcard! Many times they returned with a blank one in their suitcase, looking like it had gone through an ordeal, but sporadically, they remembered to mail one. Several people, my mother especially, started packaging every card that came her way, to add to my collection. I hadn’t thought of collecting others’ cards, but what the heck I thought! They were always the same, someplace lovely with a short note saying just that. At that point I got a card rack and started to display favorites.
Eventually the rack was filled several times over, and I bought albums to put them in, switching the rack out with new favorites. At that point I was indiscriminate. If I got a reminder from my dentist I thought, well, it is a postcard, and onto the rack it went! (After a while these weeded out). So what are my oldest? When my grandmother died a few cards sent to her from my parents and brothers was bundled together and passed on to me. These are treasures. The group below, mostly from my brothers, goes back 30 years, (although a few are a decade older), all filled with colorful snippets of places I hope to see one day: ” We’re in a train station, waiting for a late train to Aurangabad. It is like a treat to have T & A in India. We could fill a small book already with vignettes.” “In Burma. On an overnight to stay in a village reached in boats, 3 1/2 hours each way. We were treated like royalty–sumptuous meals, our muddy feet and shoes washed for us. It was quite an experience & now the jailed leader of democratic forces has received the Nobel Peace Prize. Great news.” “Spent a wonderful time in the hostel in Cassis. It’s hidden away in the mountain and a beautiful place. Met 3 girls from California and had a great time together. The only reluctant part about meeting people is the eventual parting. It’s awful.” A snapshot can’t capture those stories but a postcard can.
Two cherished postcards were both sent my me, but now, years later, have returned. They were sent while I was studying in Oxford for a semester. My surgeon dad was a history buff, you could say history was his passion, and he loved the Tudors. When I walked into the National Portrait Gallery and found the portrait of Elizabeth I, I had to write him: “Dear Dad, M & I took another trip to London and explored the Portrait Gallery–we saw her! Absolutely beautiful! We also took a tour on a double-decker bus–the upper part open to the outside–we saw Big Ben & all the sights! Last night we saw a production of The Tempest performed outside and next week we go to the newly done Globe. I spent my first day researching in the Bodleian–so huge!” I felt so proud to write that card. Me, studying at Oxford, experiencing the history at every turn; the whole summer I thought of my dad. Reading the card now brings all that emotion back.
Of course there are many precious cards from my children when they were young Their notes reminders of the rich and wonderful trips they took with my parents. There isn’t one more dear than another, but this one, from my youngest, was sent from a favorite family vacation spot during a summer when I could not be there. A place where we all made memories. It is warming to hear about his night swim, and his excitement over beating his grandmother in ping-pong (yes, she was that good!).
I can’t pick a favorite postcard. Actually I don’t want to try. Sure I love many of the nostalgic ones or those from places on the other side of the globe, but I love the stories they tell. Stories of a fleeting moment. Mostly joyous, but often expressing longing, wishing you were there to savor that sunset or horizon or beach or mountain or prairie or building or art or boat or city or horse or flower or any part of this wonderful vast world. Reading those cards brings us back to those distinct and dear moments, this time together.
Okay, okay, I guess my favorite would have to be this one. Sent as a thank you after a big Christmas at my home. This one combines two of my loves: postcards and Sir Michael Caine!!