Among the family treasures my siblings and I divided up after my mother died, there was a sewing machine drawer full of postcards. She may have neglected to save one at some point over her nearly 90 years, but I doubt it.
Nobody else wanted the cards, which were packed tight as tongue-and-groove lumber in the drawer. I took them.
I have a thing about postcards. I buy them. I send them. I religiously save the ones others send me. That happens less and less. Postcards have become passe in a world that uses telephones for everything but house-training a puppy.
I love the photos, even the mundane ones of motels and restaurants or bridges. I love the short messages, which writer Tracy Hallett compared to tweets. In a wonderful essay called “Wish You Were Here,” Hallett quoted Guardian Weekend’s Guy Browning, who said the three essential elements of a postcard message are food, room and sickness in any order. “Lovely room, dreadful food, Alison sick; dreadful room, lovely Alison, sick of food; lovely food, Alison dreadful, sick in room.”
I haven’t had time to plunder carefully Mother’s collection, but at random I pulled out a few. There was one from cousin Maxie, who said howdy from Greece. There was one from her friend Joyce, who was at Babyland in Cleveland, Ga. Somebody wrote a short note from Utah praising, what else, the acoustics at the Mormon Tabernacle.
There were many from Florida, perhaps the spiritual home of postcards. As a kid I thought there was a law that said you had to vacation in Florida. Cards reminded me of our holiday haunts: the Citrus Tower, the Singing Tower, Cypress Gardens and The Great Masterpiece, “a mosaic of Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper made of more than 300,000 pieces of mosaic, involving two years of planning and 27,000 man hours of assembly time.” That’s a lot of glass.
There was one addressed to me in Pensacola, Fla.: “We are sorry you missed the good time we had in Sunday School.” The picture part of the postcard showed kids with a dog at an easel, painting. If Sunday School had been that much fun, I wouldn’t have missed.
Many of the cards were blank on the back, signaling Mother had bought them for herself as souvenirs whenever she traveled. It was an economical purchase to help her remember — which, of course, is what the French word “souvenir” means: to remember.
But I remember times when the family vacation budget didn’t allow even for a postcard, and Mother would tell us to “hold the memory in your heart.” It was a lovely thought, but ineffective. Postcards help jog my sluggish mind.
A half-dozen cards are from a column trip my mother made with me, which only happened once. We went to Natchez, Miss., where Mother bought postcards of mansions. We visited Bourbon Street in New Orleans and the Stephen Foster Memorial in White Springs, Fla. More cards. We briefly toured St. Francisville, La., which Mother declared the most beautiful town she’d ever seen.
The thing I’d previously remembered best from that foray was my van breaking down and being towed to a mechanic’s shop where we had to wait half a day. I was disappointed and embarrassed.
Mother, on the other hand, wrote to my father on the back of a Natchez postcard: “This is one of the best trips I’ve ever made.”