Like my pack-rat tendencies, I come by my love of writing postcards honestly. My mom was an avid postcard writer and both my parents were sentimental savers. They saved greeting cards, mementos, letters, and of course, postcards.
After their deaths, I found that they had saved many of the postcards I wrote them as I lived in Europe and traveled around. I like to think it wasn’t for the photos of the beautiful places I visited.
Last week, I came across a shoebox of miscellaneous things, including a few of the above-mentioned beautiful panoramic pictures we used to mail to each other. Reading what I scrawled decades ago made me realize that writing postcards is a lost art.
As much as I enjoy social media, it’s not as personal as writing postcards. Sure, we can write the same cute, quippy descriptions of what we’re doing, but social media posts often only flicker across loved ones’ feeds. They lack permanency.
The Connectional Value of Writing Postcards
Postcards aren’t directed at a general audience. They’re not aimed at the entirety of whoever happens to follow you. They’re to a someone or couple of someones who live in the same household. They possess a no-matter-where-I-go-I-ll-always-think-of-you sentiment, worthy of a refrigerator magnet.
As I was galivanting around Europe, I reminded my parents that not only were they on my mind, I’d eventually return home.
For instance, in 1990 I wrote my parents this on the back of a photo of Switzerland’s majestic Jungfrau Joch:
You probably won’t get this until after Scotland and Ireland [where we were meeting them], but writing you postcards is such a ritual that no trip would be complete without it.
From Salzburg, Austria I wrote
Dear Folks: I liked this card so much that I wanted to keep it, so I’m sending it to you.
Though they’re not as ubiquitous as they used to be, you can still pick up a postcard in touristed areas. Last summer, for instance, my husband picked one out to send his mother from Yosemite National Park. Chances were we’d talk to her before she got the postcard, (delayed a bit even further by the fact that we had no idea what postcard postage cost, so we had to go to a post office to find out). Still, he (we) wanted her to know she was on our minds.
I’m not knocking greeting cards. I love getting them. However, postcards offer a space for creativity that greeting cards lack. In other words, by not offering someone else’s prewritten thoughts, writing postcards forces us to say something in our own words. Perhaps not as eloquently. Perhaps not with quite the same biting humor. But it’s our words.
There’s something about writing postcards that lead us to eschew the Miss Manners correctness of
Dear ________, How are you? We are fine. _______ is beautiful.
From Australia started a postcard with:
I had to wait [to write a postcard] until we had some major achievements under our belts—like petting a few of each of these.
From Normandy, where we were traveling with my sister, after listing all the historical and memorial sites we’d seen, I wrote:
So far we’ have been so tired that neither Dana’s snoring nor the alarm clock has disturbed our sleep.
Writing Postcards to Parents
I don’t have access to the postcards that I wrote to friends and cousins, but looking back at the ones Mom and Dad kept with the wisdom of a parent, I see how they would have been reassuring.
Of course, that was in the day before WhatsApp and Facetime. It was the way they knew I was fine. And, there was some self-interest on my part. One I sent while working as an Au-Pair, ended with “Take care of my cat. Love Y’all!”
The tradition continued as we moved back stateside and were pregnant. (Technically, it was only me, but there was a lot of mutual psychologically preparing each other going on.) From Hawaii I wrote:
Feeling pretty good. Matt says I’ve just slowed down enough that he can keep up.
Try writing postcards the next time you go somewhere cool. (Or warm, or beautiful).
And, if precious postcards from the past are languishing in shoeboxes, try giving them new life. Share via social media or pull out a few fridge magnets.
Image credits: Because the original postcards my parents kept may still be in under copyright protection, all images used in this post are courtesy of Pixabay.com, CC0.