Postcards preserve unfinished stories
At the ripe age of 2 years, I received my first postcard.
August 26, 1976
I bought this post just for you. I know how you like fish. These are pretty fish. We're having a good time, but we miss seeing y'all. Hope you enjoy this card. See ya next week.
Aunt Di & Uncle Cliff
Salt water fish appeared to swim behind coral on the front of the thick, shiny card. It was a "Super Dimension, Living Natural Color, 3D Collector Series" masterpiece, and somehow it had found its way into the black metal box at the end of our dirt road. I thought it the greatest thing since polyester plaid onesies.
First issued in the 1870s, postcards were the not-so-instant text messaging of the 19th and 20th centuries. Horse died, but I arrived in Boston. ... Happy Birthday from your schoolmate, Lennie. ... Macy's has ladies' ready-to-wear dresses and hats with plumes in all colors imaginable. ... Thank you for the cookies, Mother sends her love. All are snippets of a greater story known best only to the sender and the recipient.
Sifting through a stack of posts, I find one which reads, Hello Honey: Still riding somewhere ... Another card later. Love, Earl.
Ol' Earl, he was quite the wordsmith. Perhaps Earl was riding on horseback through the wilderness, passed a fellow with the Pony Express and didn't have much time for his love letter. Or maybe Earl was a spy and this was a secret code. Or maybe he was head over heels for Honey, but being the strong silent type, this was the most sentiment he could muster.
I take a closer look. In the upper right-hand corner, he has written Priv E Payne U.S. Army. On the square where the postage stamp is supposed to be, he has written the word Free. The front of the card depicts Jefferson Barracks. It was sent to a Miss A. Alexander in St. Louis, Mo., posted from Birmingham, Ala., on October 11, 1942, at 2:30pm.
Oh. That changes everything.
Pvt. Payne wrote these words on a Sunday in autumn, likely on a train, somewhere between St. Louis and Birmingham, headed for World War II. A kid writing his sweetheart, who he'd probably just waved to a few hours before as the train pulled from the station. I wonder if Miss Alexander received the card. Did Pvt. Payne make it home? Did they marry? How did the card end up here, in a flea market in Arkansas decades later?
I don't know. All I know is, at that moment, Pvt. Payne spoke volumes.
I smile as I turn the yellowed, 3D fish card back and forth in my hand to make the fish "swim," then tuck it beside Earl's card in a sea of hundreds of other postcards I've gathered over the years, each one a preserved morsel of an unfinished story. I'd like to see a text message do that.
NAN Our Town on 08/23/2018
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