Atlanta Airport – 1952, family postcard, Augusta, Georgia, July 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.
I’ve been thinking about the lost art of writing postcards and letters. A few weeks ago, while staying at my uncle’s place in Georgia, I began the long process of scanning old photographs and historical documents for the family archives. I asked my uncle if he would pull out his collection of memorabilia. He showed up the next day with stacks of old black and white photographs. And a wide, faded brown shoebox containing bundles of newspaper clippings, letters, and postcards.
Most of the postcards were to or from my Great, Great Aunt Cassie. My Great, Great Uncle Claude had worked for the Georgia Railroad and they traveled a lot on their vacations. But there was one in particular that caught my eye – a postcard that Mom’s older brother, Jack, had sent her in high school. The postmark was July 24th, 1952. A postcard stamp was only 1 cent back then. One cent.
My Uncle Jack would have been 16 at the time. He must have been on vacation with relatives. On the front of the postcard, where we might now see a digital photograph, was a 4-color illustration of the Atlanta Municipal Airport, the same airport Liz flew out of on her way back to Minnesota from Georgia in July.
In scratchy, adolescent handwriting, he wrote:
I am having a good time here. I have met a lot of girls here and I have
had 6 dates since I got here. I’ve got another one tomorrow night and
Saturday. We are coming home Sunday. We have an air conditioner
here and it is cool.
I called Mom after I got back to Minnesota and asked her if she minded if I posted Jack’s card. She lost her brother in 1954, two years after he sent the postcard, only days before I was born. It was the year he graduated from high school. He had been ill with mono but wanted to go and celebrate with his friends anyway. They went swimming at Clarks Hill. He drowned on what is reported to have been a second swim across the lake. His body, still recovering and weak from the mono, must have given out mid-swim.
Mom said she didn’t have any qualms about me sharing the postcard. “No, I don’t mind if you post it,” she said. “We’re open about things like that.” Then, in one last thought, she sounded a little sad. “What did it say?” she asked.
I told her he wrote about what any teenage boy would write about: girls. But what struck me the most was seeing his handwriting; it was over 50 years old. And that he took the time to write, to send Mom a few lines letting her know he was thinking of her.
When we were on St. Simons Island, I looked high and low for postcards to send to friends. I finally found a rack in the corner of a novelty store along the main drag near the lighthouse. It was the same place Liz and I got our soft cotton Georgia T-shirts. But then, there were no stamp machines that sold postcard stamps. And we never made it to the spot on the island where the post office was located. So I waited until I was back in Augusta to mail them.
Postcards are becoming a thing of the past. But I have one writing friend who sent postcards every week as part of her practice last year. And another who sends herself postcards when she goes out on the road to write. She says she has many insights while traveling, jots them down on a postcard, and mails them to herself. After returning home, it centers her to read them – a gift to her creative self.
I am running into handwritten letters at every turn. Boxes turned up in storage with letters from my mother and grandmother. And I’m midway through the letters of Flannery O’Connor; you wouldn’t believe how much I am learning about this great Southern writer (and the South) from reading her letters. Should I begin writing letters again?
I am getting closer. Last Saturday, Liz went to three garage sales; at one she bought me an antique Royal portable typewriter. I started using it that day. At the same sale (it was run by an artist/photographer; she took me back with her later), we bought some vintage vinyl for a quarter a piece, and three great literature books for 50 cents each. One of them was Frida: A Biography of Frida Kahlo by Hayden Herrera. It is full of her letters.
Later that day at the studio, I started thumbing through Frida’s biography; sticking out of the middle section, was a faded postcard sent from Colombia. The front of the postcard has a photograph of a Cuna woman in traditional garb. A small 2 was circled at the top; it was the second of a series of three. The title, URABA (ANTIOQUIA) COLOMBIA — India Cuna, was in block print. The handwriting was loopy cursive, written in Spanish. A studio mate read it to me. She recognized the sancocho, a traditional Colombian soup.
I think the postcard is like a letter haiku. Think of everything you’ve learned in brief intervals of 17-syllable haiku from our regulars on haiku (one-a-day). The postcard from my uncle spoke to me; half a century later I gained a glimpse of who he was. I got a postcard from ybonesy that arrived right after I came home from Georgia. Maybe she’ll send me one from Vietnam (smile).
I’m considering a postcard/letter writing practice in the coming months. I want to use the vintage Royal. When is the last time you received a handwritten letter or postcard? If you have insights into the art or practice of postcard and letter writing, please share them with us. All is never as it seems. And life letters only add to the mystery.
Postcard From Uncle Jack, Augusta, Georgia, July 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.
-posted on red Ravine, Monday, August 25th, 2008
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