Saturday, October 2, 2010


I collect postcards. I have since I was young. What I love about them is seeing a place, near or far, through the eyes of another. What did they find fascinating and worthy of mention?

I also enjoy the idea of the postcard itself having been on a journey. The first things I notice upon receipt are the postage and the postmark. Where is it from? How long did it take to reach me? Some come posted from the point of origin, others from the next stop along the way, and yet others are hand delivered by a stranger who happened to be in the Galapagos and was returning home to a place near enough to me to drop it off. (Their own special form of postal delivery, it seems.)

A lot of times, my friends will leave on their trips armed with the best of intentions to send me a postcard. They have my address either on a small piece of paper in their wallet (precarious) or in a text message in their phone. In both cases they find themselves on vacation, postcard in hand, but no address to be found.

These are the ones that come to me hand delivered. Some have writing. Some do not. Some even have a stamp. I accept them all graciously, omitting the comments about the idea being that the card, too, has been on a journey. And I guess, in a way it has, it has struggled to get to me, and maybe it's journey was taken tucked away in a suitcase instead of in a third world postal system. I wouldn't dream of leaving them out of the collection. When it comes to postcards, in my mind, it truly is the thought that counts.

There are a few in particular that are my favorites. One postcard, the one that I am sure started it all, traveled to me from across Africa. Jude, my sixth grade teacher's aide, announced one day in class that she would be leaving us for a few months to travel in Africa. Ah, the remembrance of the first time I uttered those now so familiar words, "Will you send me a postcard?" Those words, I do believe, were the first out of my mouth! I have no idea what prompted the request. Perhaps the thought of having something come to me from such a far away place was exciting. Whatever the reason, my enthusiasm for the postcard has not waned. It would turn out to be the first "pleading for postcards" on a substantial list!

The postcard was a photo of beautiful bare breasted and beaded tribal women at work. I will never forget the colorful cloths they wrapped about themselves. And the long, multi-layered strands of painted beads and gold rings. I can still picture her handwriting, skinny and upright, black ink, proclaiming that, "The women here are so beautiful!" I remember a lot going on around a colorful but very foreign looking postage stamp, covered in cancel dates and ink. Alas, all I have of the card is my memory. At present, it has gone missing. On another journey. I kept it close at hand for years, but now, no matter where I look, it alludes me. I haven't given up. I am convinced it will turn up, sooner or later, in a forgotten box in the attic or storage. And I know it will return to me. It found me from across Africa, the Atlantic and America on its first journey. It will certainly find me again from the close range of a closet.

Another treasure that comes to mind are the two identical Parisiennes postcards that were mailed by two different travelers 10 years apart. What are the chances?! Another favorite, the postcard from Alaska sent by my co-worker who also had his father take a picture of him with the postcard in front of the Post Office in Alaska where the card was mailed. I love rifling through the postcards from time to time and remembering these tid bits. I can recall some story or circumstance surrounding just about every card I have. Most of the stories have nothing to do with the card itself, and everything to do with its sender.

One of the things I like most about my postcard experiment is the enthusiasm of the sender. Most of them approach it as a chore, but, in the end, are as excited as I am not just about sending the card, but about sharing their trip. I had one sender who acted a tad put out that I wanted a postcard from each stop on her European journey. The first cards were short and to the point. but as she started seeing and experiencing more, the postcards got bigger and the writing smaller to accommodate all of her travel adventures. The postcards enabled her to share her excitement of the things she was enjoying on her trip. Funny, after her last postcard from her last port of call, I didn't hear from her again. Until three years later, when out of the blue, I started receiving postcards. This time from her journeys around Hawaii. What a great surprise!

I have a group of postcards I call The Kindness of Strangers. These cars come from people I don't know at all. People I meet by happenstance on the subway or in a doctor's office who may mention and upcoming trip in passing. These same poor people are almost immediately shoved a piece of paper with my name and address on it and asked, "Would you mind terribly sending me a postcard? I have a collection you see. And it doesn't need any correspondence, just the postage and postmarks. Thank you so much." I am sure they find me insane. But boy do my eyes light up when weeks later, I open my mailbox to find that precious postcard from some far away land and a kind stranger who took pity on "the crazy lady at the..."

The most beautiful and perplexing postcard of this kind is from Iraq. It is a photograph of a wall with the ornate writing carved on it. It is kind of a sand color. Very simple. The sender has left a very simple message on the back. And the postmark confirms it was mailed through an APO. So, someone named Mandy, who was somehow connected to the US military, took the time to send a stranger a postcard from Iraq. How wonderful is that? And what a surprise too. I so wish I could remember who I asked to send me the card. I would love to send Mandy a note of thanks.

So to Mandy, and all all the others known and unknown, Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

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