I love postcards. I love picking them out, finding just the right image for the right person. I love writing them, figuring out how much will fit into the blank space, judging how much of a story I can tell without running out of room. I love the idea that, in this day of email and Facebook posts and Instagram, I can send a brightly colored card from wherever I happen to be and, hopefully, make the recipient happy that they opened their mailbox that day. I know I’m always happy when I receive one.
I haven’t always been so diligent about actually sending the postcards. When I was in college, I spent Spring Break on a whirlwind trip: eight days through London, Paris, Lille, Germany and Brussels with a few friends. It was insane, but we were in college and, well, why not? I bought numerous postcards and had every intention of sending them…but I didn’t.
Due to reasons that I can’t remember right now (maybe it was a lack of an address? Failure to buy stamps? Simple neglect and the resulting loss in a pile of travel ephemera?), I never sent them. I found them again when I was cleaning out one of the many boxes that are stored at my parents’ house in Florida, boxes that were packed in Georgia and finally unearthed, some five years later.
These postcards are snapshots of a different sort. Yes, there’s a shot of the opera house in Paris, and a montage of can can dancers at the Folies Bergere, but it’s what’s written on the back, in the small white space, that brings back memories. I write about classes that I’ll have to return to soon; I write about cute British boys that I met and the Kindereggs I’m smuggling back for a friend who knows their value; I write to my boyfriend of the time, who will not be my boyfriend for much longer; I write to my grandparents–both of them–about climbing to the top of Notre Dame. Looking at these postcards, I remember those people who have moved out of my life and those who remain in it.
I’d like to say that I’ve mended my ways and that I always manage to send the postcards that I write…but I don’t. I also found postcards from my trip to New Zealand that even have stamps on them; I forgot to mail them before I left Auckland. But these purloined cards carry a story, too.
For me, the act of purchasing and writing postcards is seminal to travel. Not just because I want the recipient to know that I was thinking about them, but because, for me, it makes where I am seem a bit more real. There is so much to see and smell and experience when I travel that sometimes I need to stop and really ground myself in where I am, rather than let it just swirl around me. Writing–and sending–postcards helps me do that.
I have another reason to write postcards now: my niece Evaline has discovered the joy of receiving mail and, while she can’t read what I write (she’s only two), she knows that they’re from me. When I can’t be there in person, at least she knows I’m thinking about her. Maybe, subliminally, she’ll remember them when she starts making travel plans of her own.
So I’ll keep buying and writing postcards, making every effort to send them. I’m getting better about it and sometimes it’s not even my fault that they don’t arrive (I’m still waiting for my parents and friends to tell me that a postcard from Kathmandu has arrived; it’s been five months and counting).
I just hope you know that even if they’re a bit (15 years) late, I’m still thinking of you and wishing you were here.