Even in these dark days while we all count the slow minutes of each hour, there are some gifts resting under our fear. Shifting my daily routine from standing resolutely in my classroom to teaching from a wavy screen in my living room first brought me unease, but then I found absolute faith from my students who are rising to meet the demands like champs. I have gained hope from these teenagers, as their optimism buoys me in despair. I depend on them once more to cultivate a symbiotic although digital relationship, as we all face another day sheltering in place. During the other hours, while alone in my own thoughts, I turn to memories of traveling this one planet, navigating the ancient cobblestones and sandy beaches and stone steps and narrow turrets and city sidewalks and dirt roads and roof tops and galleries brimming with the masters and bike paths and mountain peaks all under a busy and brilliant sky.
My parents were healthy travelers who loved all the world’s sights and wonders. My mother, a fabled storyteller, highlighted the essence of her adventure on every one of her postcards. She traveled to Europe as a young mother when my dad was stationed in Germany after the war. She returned later with six children in tow, and over and over again with a best friend or sister or grandchild. She and I spent a few grand weeks in Oxford while I was studying. On any given day she’d be writing postcards while sitting in the sunshine or filling time between outings. There is something about being far away that makes you want to reach out to those you love, and what better way than postcards? Below are many of the places she visited, but hardly all. Missing are her trips to Egypt, Alaska, Venezuela, Panama, just to name a few. Each postcard I received an invitation to imagination.
During these recent weeks of uncertainly and chaos I have done what I could to find order anywhere. What started as a simple trip down memory lane, turned into a major undertaking, sorting through hundreds of postcards in my possession. While COVID 19 was shutting down major cites in our country, and even whole countries around our globe, I started sorting by who sent me cards, then resorted into countries, even cities. A stack for Italy. Another for Germany, Switzerland, France, England, Scotland and Ireland. A short stack for Japan and another for China. New York City. Los Angeles. Hawaii. Remembrances when I received each came from reading through the respective writer’s excitement and itinerary. I read over many cards that I wrote and sent home to children and spouse. There were also announcements, art openings, thank you’s, holiday cards and invitations. A whole world of people traipsing across state lines and time zones with an eagerness that is stuck on hold right about now. Counting. Sorting. Controlling. Connecting in isolation. Holding on to what must come at that end of all of this quarantining. As we send our world economy into a Depression this must be worth it, this sheltering, right? Global health must be our common goal.
There are favorite spots I’ve traveled to, and treasured moments in each one. Certainly taking a gondola in Venice Italy and pedaling past the canals in Venice California. Hiking around a tiny town on the western side of Ireland in Connemara. Another ski town high up in the Swiss alps where I rode a small red sled across a narrow icy lip into the woods before descending at a terrifying and thrilling speed. Nice at sunset giggling with girl friends. Santa Monica rooftop reveling at sunset with family. Taking a fast northern train out of Tokyo. Or a packed train during rush hour into Rome. Or New York City. Drinking tea with my mother and daughter and sister in Oxford. Eating fruit tarts on our honeymoon in Montreal. And a perfectly ripe peach in Cassis or on Long Island. Christening my tug in Charleston. Jumping off another tug in the Port Jefferson harbor. Leaving on a bike from Boston headed south 175 miles over three days. Hearing the bells of Notre Dame on a Paris evening with friends. Swimming across a lake with my whole family on a hot August afternoon in upstate New York. All these moments connecting me to pockets of joy. Large rich tasty morsels of happiness. Postcards as reminders.
Of course there are so many post cards that rise as favorites, some because of the memory they evoke, others because they come from a place I yearn to visit, and others because of who sent them. My Michael Caine is a favorite because of course I adore him, and the brother who sent it, but also it reminds me of the last time I was in London and the driver of my car pointed out a tall odd shaped building and told me Caine lived there years back and he was his driver for a wee bit and he talked all about those wild and exciting 1960’s. He was lost in his own memories as we sped on to the airport and suddenly my trip was ending on a high. Sad to leave a city I love but delighted with more story. There are so many such tales here in this collection of paper and print. Of my parents love for opera and my subsequent appreciation for the pageantry at the Met. Standing at the edge of the Grand Canyon with my wife and her speechless reverence for all that wide-open wonder. Or the one of Queen Elizabeth I, which when I first saw her portrait I wept for a full five minutes, because, well, how did she survive? The postcard my daughter made announcing one of her art shows. The Tin Tin card that thrilled my oldest son, and the one sent from my youngest from Lake Como, a place I luckily visited a year later. The fact that I swam in the Mediterranean, and once again proved adept at changing on the beach, that would have made my dad proud. These are only a few, but you get the idea. Place. People. Time. Us moving around this one planet. That’s what I needed to remember. Never mind the piles and labels, the crazy need to control something, but the universal recognization that we are in this predicament together. And perhaps more than even that is that it’s a temporary moment. As Queen Elizabeth II reassured her country and all of us, “We will see our friends again. We will see our families again. We will meet again.”
There is one place where my family has come together many many times. It is a happy place. And the two dozen cards from Mohonk only begin to describe our shared memory there. Yeah, that’s a good place to dream about visiting once again. I’ll leave you lake side, with a warm breeze, with your whole crew ready to dive in.