Sunday, August 14, 2011

Postcards From the Edge

The number of emails a person can handle a day is said to be about fifty, according to a  2010 survey commission by an email provider Intermedia.

Last week, as we headed west from New Jersey on a two day drive to Fontana Village, North Carolina, I handled close to zero.

That was because the only network I had deep in the Smoky Mountains was one formed by the relatives we’d traveled so far to see; Verizon’s web of connectivity was lost somewhere in the North Carolina dust.

To be without Internet and cell reception for four to five days is no heroic accomplishment, but it is different, at least for me. There was one spot in the Village that had Wi-Fi and cell reception and I asked to go there one time especially. “I just need to call the guy who’s building our fence,” I told my husband, “to remind him he can’t reach us.”

The irony did not escape me, nor did the fact that even if the builder could reach us, what good I’d be to him hundreds of miles away should he hit a pipe or knock a tree into our house was questionable.

Still, this was my first lesson in disconnecting: I felt an obligation to explain my absence.

The other thing I learned was that when a phone’s primary purpose is rendered ineffective, it’s ancillary ones seem less urgent. The result: I didn’t tote the phone around to take pictures, and now, looking back, I have memories, but few photographs.

If I didn’t miss email, or too much of Facebook and the Internet, there was one moment when having the ability to use cell phones felt like a security blanket we’d forgotten to pack. I missed it when we dropped our kids off at my parent’s cabin and went five minutes down the mountain to a little recreation center to watch a black and white documentary on the building of the local dam.

How, I wondered, would my mom reach us if she needed to?

Ah, yes, a landline. I seemed to remember those....

How quickly older forms of communication seem ancient. I thought of the box I was given a few months after my grandmother’s death, a Mi Choice Chocolates from Bunte of Chicago.  Inside were about a hundred postcards once belonging to her mother, my great-grandmother Ceil.

I’d hoped to follow a love story, or get a glimpse into the saga of her family’s life reading the postcards. What I learned was that these notes, at least in her circle, were the text messages of our world. And I don't mean the kind that make headlines and bring down political careers.

No, these were more like post-it notes, or quick little voice mails. Just enough to say, days after the fact, that “we’d made it home,” or invite someone to “come on down” for a visit.

According to a website on postcard history, the cards I have from 1909 to 1915 represent some of the advancements in the peak of postcard communication.

Souvenir Postal Cards entered the scene in the late 1890’s, but the novel  “divided back” post card with a special section for an address as well as personal note arrived in 1907. And it’s these that fill most of my great-grandmother’s collection. She was born at the turn of the century, meaning that just as the teens of today turn to their G4, Ceil turned to her fancy cards.

Postmark December 30, 1909

We received yours and tell mama to write and give me her address, for she says you have moved. From Mr. & Mrs. Jackson

Postmark June 30, 1914

Dear Cecilia,

We got home safe and hope you got home safe too. Best Regards to All. From Edwin Miller

Postmark January 15, 1915

Dear Cousin Celie,

Received your letter but I’m sorry to say that we are going to Stella’s Birthday party Sat. with Irma. Sun. afternoon to Fort Thomas to her aunts. If I am home next Sat. will let you know and you can come down Fri. after school and then we will go to town Saturday afternoon. With love from Elsie. Tell your Ma and Pa to come down.

I can image how excited my fifteen year old great-grandmother would have been to get a note from her cousin and that she probably sat down to write her back later that day, sending her communication the fastest way she could, then checking the mail every day to see if there was news.

While she undoubtedly wished her messages could be conveyed even more swiftly, now it seems we have to take ourselves deep into the mountains or swim against a broadband of access to slow it down just a bit.

Then again, maybe I'll buy some 29 cent stamps and start writing postcards.

Video, featuring a few of my great-grandmother's postcards.


Tim Morrissey said...

Indeed, the post cards of that era are analagous to the text messages of today - nicely drawn analogy! Loved the post, and the video. Welcome back!

Heidi said...

Nice connection between the old and new. I love postcards and have always saved the ones sent to me. But rather than invite or short messages, usually they relay the events of the trip. Seems the types of messages postcards have been used for have changed in some respects. I have some from my parent's trip to Europe in late 60's and lots since then. When we travel I try to remember bringing postcard stamps along and have my two little boys (soon 7 and 5) write cards to their grandparents or cousins that live far from them. I too, still send postcards to family and my sons when I travel for work.

Angie said...

I love postcards, and save every one that I receive - have done it for a million years. Perhaps one day my great-grands will laugh over them, but I think they're delightful. And I always carry stamps in my wallet in case I want to send one.