a postcard in the mail

A postcard arrived from Lisbon, Portugal the other day.

I have always liked postcards.  I think it has something to do with my interest in geography when I was young.  And who doesn’t like getting mail?

There’s a large box of postcards in the basement that I have saved over the years.  It’s a mix of those that I have received, some that I have sent to family members (or other people have sent to them), a few that my parents left behind, and those that I have purchased here and there.  (Some were used, bought at antique stores, and others are new ones that I purchased but kept rather than sending.)

Reaching into that box, I am reminded of places and times and people.  Instantly recognizable handwriting can take my breath away, and the image on the front or the message on the back can transport me.

Of course, all of this is terribly old fashioned.  Why write a postcard when you can send an email?  And why be thrilled with a photo from a far-off place or an image of a painting when there are untold multitudes of each online?

Because of those technologies, postcards are much harder to find in stores than they used to be.  And interesting ones are particularly scarce.

I know because I have a young pen pal, and I try to send him postcards when I travel.  He’s into geography like I was, so for now I mostly send him images of places.  Even the old standbys of landmarks that travelers have sent for decades are less common than they used to be.

While I was in New York City last week, I went to a wonderful exhibit about J.D. Salinger at the majestic public library on Fifth Avenue.  I don’t recall there being any postcards in the exhibit, but there were books and notes and marked-up galleys and many letters, to and from Salinger.

Along with photos, they chronicled his early years, his remarkable service in World War II, his meteoric rise in the literary world, and the reclusive last half of his life.  It was the letters to his old friends and the Army buddies that he rediscovered decades after their days together that were the most moving.

Now we send electrons off into the ether.  It’s just not the same.

In any case, before that postcard from Portugal, I got one from Germany and another from Utah.  From people I don’t know.

In October, I read an article about Postcrossing.  According to that site, “The idea is simple:  for each postcard you send, you will receive one back from a random postcrosser from somewhere in the world.”  And so I joined up and have started sending postcards off and receiving them myself.

In advance of sending a postcard, you can read about the person’s interests; that’s why the one from Portugal had actually been purchased at Spillers Records in Wales, “the oldest record shop in the world.”  What a great choice for me.

Many of those with whom you correspond would like a postcard that is representative of the place you call home.  I have an extensive collection of postcards of Luverne (including many of these).  But I’m not going to give them up.

I figured that many people would enjoy images from Jim Brandenburg; they represent home and are meaningful to me.  The first one I sent was “Prairie Smoke.”  An hour or so after I had mailed it to Russia, I looked at my Twitter screen (I’m not totally out of date) and there was that very same picture, tweeted by Minnesota Conservation Volunteer.

In general, mail is a lot more boring these days than it used to be.  But it’s exciting to know that there might be a postcard in the mail, and that someone across the world may be looking for one from me too.

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