Postcards from the Edge…or maybe, Brugge
Have postcards gone the way of handwritten letters, thank-you notes and the family dinner hour?
As a kid, besides birthday cards from a great aunt, uncle or godparent stuffed with a few singles or a five-dollar bill, my favorite mailbox find was a postcard. Back then, at the dawn of the jet age, my family didn’t know any globetrotters. More often than not, postcards arrived at our Arlington Heights, Illinois address with images of Mackinac Island, the Wisconsin Dells, Starved Rock State Park or maybe some steel bridge at let’s say, Steubenville, Ohio. For the rare card that popped into our lives from such exotic locales as Miami Beach, the Grand Canyon or Hollywood, California, I skipped into the house from our curbside mailbox squealing with delight. I’d stare at the picture, imagining how wonderful a visit would be.
As the years flew by and my circle of friends expanded, my postcard trove increased to include greetings sent from every corner of the world. The messages were the same, having a grand time, wish you were here, but the cover images and stamps were truly exotic…The Houses of Parliament, the Eiffel Tower, Rio’s Ipanema and Copacabana beaches, an Australian kangaroo, a Nepalese temple, the Great Pyramid at Giza.
Who wouldn’t want to welcome a bit of Paris into your home–the next best thing to being there….
But over the years, postcards became fewer and fewer.
I still like to send postcards. In my mind, they’re a long-distance hug, a chance to remind someone that he or she is special in our lives–we remember them. A few years back, we were in Rome. I wandered down to the front desk to ask if they had stamps for my postcards of the Colosseum, the Spanish Steps, the Vatican. The young girl behind the desk flashed a deer-in-the-headlights look. “Postcard?” she said. Her expression, a mix of bewildered judgment, made me feel as if I’d asked for the nearest telegram office. This wasn’t a language barrier as much as a generational divide. Young people don’t appreciate the romance of postcards….
Perhaps the death of postcards was inevitable. The Internet brought instant gratification. Today, choosing among Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest, holiday goers can share their own pictures with hordes of friends instantly–they’re personal and meaningful. No need to scribble on a card in long-forgotten cursive or try to find a stamp and mailbox to send out some mass-produced image. And if we want to see a place, all we have to do is conjure up the magic genie known as Google. And if we want to immerse ourselves in a ‘real experience’ we link onto a live webcam….
Yet, I haven’t abandoned postcards. Although I can count on one hand the number of postcards that we receive in a year, I still enjoy getting them.
When we knew we were moving to Belgium, we needed to downsize. So, we had a massive estate sale. Four hundred people trudged through our suburban Chicago home on a damp, December weekend snatching up a lifetime of possessions. Among these was a prized box of postcards accumulated over the decades, some received, some bought as souvenirs. It was time to let go..
When we got to Brussels, I had a desire to keep in touch with family and friends back home. Facebook and email are great, but they only go so far. I wanted a more personal touch, private messages. I wanted people to know we were okay and hadn’t dropped off the planet. So I tapped into my passion for postcards. Who wouldn’t love to get a postcard from overseas?
I even used postcards to pen Happy Birthday wishes and thanks you notes, viewing the colorful images as a unique alternative to staid greeting cards.
In our twenty months living in Belgium, I’ve mailed out nearly 100 postcards. Of those, less than 30% of recipients sent a note acknowledging the gesture.
Now a postcard doesn’t ask for a reply, but the low response rate surprises me. Perhaps most people don’t look at postcards as special anymore. Do people still like receiving them or are they looked upon as junk mail?
I admit to being a bit obsessive when it comes to acknowledging correspondence, even thanking people for thank you notes. When we receive a postcard, I send a quick email of thanks to the sender. While that’s unusual, I want to keep the flow of postcards coming. Besides, I had hoped people would look at my missives for what they were, a chance to stay in touch, a reminder that Jim and I are apart from our flock.
My brother, Scott is a great example. I started sending him postcards almost from the moment we moved to Belgium. One of his favorite cities is Brugge so off went a Brugge postcard with a sweet, brotherly message. I never heard if he got it. Off went a second, still no reply. So with a visit to Brugge on every one of our houseguest’s wish list, I dashed off postcards to my brother from Brugge, again and again–six in total, and still no response. Now, my brother is a kind man with good intentions. He merely stumbles a bit on the execution. For example, last year my spouse didn’t get a birthday card from my brother. When I asked Scott if he forgot, he replied, “No, I didn’t forget Jim’s card. It’s sitting right here on my kitchen counter.” And so, apparently, the card still sits on that kitchen counter over 4,000 miles away in Chicago, a reminder that Scott did not forget my spouse’s birthday.
So with my lament, should I stop sending postcards? I’d save time and money as well as the disappointment of the non-repliers. Why do I do it?
Because sometimes the payoff is there, a note that my postcard made someone’s day, put a smile on their face. Just last week, my cousins Barb, Pat and Bob sent me notes and pictures. The postcards I sent to my 87 year-old, Aunt Zita and 86 year-old, Uncle Ray brought smiles to their faces and gave them something interesting to pass around at the monthly Arkenberg family breakfast. “It’s as if you and Jim were there,” my one cousin said. That’s worth it in my book.
By the way, in early October Jim and I are expecting more houseguests from back home. Of course, they want to go to Brugge. Call me an optimist or a fool but you can guess what I’ll be picking up and dispatching to my brother in Chicago….