While a sick (now robust) friend of mine was going through cancer treatment, another friend sent him a handmade postcard every single day. He kept them displayed on the kitchen counter, and some of us sneaked a peak when we dropped off meals. Snooping is within the rules of postcards, which are, after all, open to inspection—and more private, when you think about it, than an email or blog bounced through all the time zones all over the globe.
Each was a marvel, as you might expect from an artist’s hand—a tiny treasure the patient turned to for cheer and encouragement, and I had no doubt they aided in his recovery.
The next involved a mother and daughter with an ocean between them. The ocean was no accident, for they didn’t much get along. Still, for decades, whenever one traveled, she sent the other a postcard. This small act spoke of a connectedness that the women could not otherwise express. And, the postcard endured—on a desk or a countertop, or tucked into a book, or pinned to the bulletin board for the indefinite future. In the deliberateness of the gesture and in its tangible persistence, it functioned like a gift.
The final story was my own recent experiment. On vacation, I sent postcards to my sons who were hard at work at their respective colleges. From the schlocky to the provocative, the beautiful to the comic, I had a grand time picking them out. Penned at leisure in cafés and beer halls, I kept it short.
“What they can do with a potato around here!” “Great news about your internship!” “Have you fixed your bike yet?”
They were funny, even ridiculous—especially in volume. There must have been a dozen apiece before I was done. But, as it turned out, both my sons were long out of the habit of checking a physical campus mailroom—where dust and dinosaurs collected—so I had to prompt them along.
“Steak frites tonight. The real deal.”
It was an inside joke, a reference to a longstanding family debate on the proper presentation of this dish.
What’s the value of a postcard?
A laugh. A keepsake. A connection. A pause in the hectic day. This is enough for me. Besides, as writing goes, it doesn’t get much better than one choice sentence and you’re done.
Comments welcome and edited to include first names only, and website, if provided; never your email. Photo of postcard by fugue; steak frites by umami.typepad.com.