“Antiquated Relics”

I recently read an article by Andrew Lam about his connection to written postcards, as a sender and as a receiver. In it he explains how he used them to keep in touch with his family during overseas writing assignments and how his mother collected these “antiquated relics” for most of her life. As a child growing up in southern Vietnam, Lam was completely unaware of the world outside of his tropical locale. The first time he saw snow was on a postcard of Paris and he credits this first postcard encounter with firing up his desire to travel.

Lam wonders if technology is making the postcard obsolete in this digital age when photos of one’s travels can be instantly uploaded and sent around the world to anyone’s inbox. Smart phones, Twitter, and Facebook albums have all but erased the postcard’s purpose. Lam is also concerned that the abbreviated language in emails and textspeak are sadly replacing the poetry that could once be found on the backs of postcards. Those written words, penned by someone who took time from their trip to think of someone else, were usually limited by space but were compelled, by that reason alone, to be even more meaningful.

Like the one postcard I received from my friend Kristi in the summer of 2008. She and her then-boyfriend (now husband) were driving all around the Northeast in search for graduate schools. Along the way, Kristi and Jeff stopped off in various cities to be tourists.  One day at work, I got a postcard featuring a taxidermied African elephant from the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C. On the back, Kristi wrote, “I TOUCHED MARS HERE!”

I lived in the Washington, D.C. area for 7 years. I never touched Mars but you can bet I want to now. Kristi’s enthusiasm got to me – the capital letters, the exclamation point, the flailing hands! Kristi, when so enthused to share a story, is an excitable hand-flapper. In those four words, Kristi probably flapped her hands approximately ten times.

Another one of my favorite postcards is one that Matt sent to me last year. It’s beautiful, isn’t it?

But yes, something is a little…off. Oklahoma’s wild horses? That’s the saddest bunch of wild horses I’ve ever seen. While I confess to never actually having seen wild horses in my lifetime, I would imagine they don’t come pre-bridled and fenced-in.  It is one of our favorite postcards, Matt and me, if not because of the beautiful horses but because it is also ridiculously…well, ridiculous.

Lam says his mother once told him, “People travel more, people write less.” Lam disagrees. “People, if anything, write more frequently than ever before, it’s just that they don’t do so with postcards.”

And I do believe that. I do not, however, believe that postcards are an antiquated relic, as Lam called them. They are still widely available, put on display inside gas stations, drugstores, Wal-Marts, and gift shops. They are actually cheaper to buy than the stamps used to mail them. I still send them and I still receive them.  I also believe that people still enjoy receiving something in their mailbox, their real mailbox outside their front door. Postcards let us know that no matter where in the world our loved ones were at that moment, they thought about us. Someone actually wrote a few words and acknowledged our importance to them through a postcard.

I’ve just emptied three photo albums that held a portion of my postcard collection. The rest of the collection is in a keepsake box. I usually have a stack of postcards that I’ve managed to acquire over the years and when the mood strikes, I’ll send one off. Sometimes to my friends, sometimes to their children.

Who doesn’t love getting a postcard in the mail?

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