Guest essay by Tracy Huddleson, writer and editor on technology, government and health concerns
Some of the most valuable legacies we leave behind at the end of our lives aren’t property or philanthropy or even children. Sometimes they’re simply our words — fragments of who we were, expressed in our own thoughts during our time on Earth.
From the mid-19th to mid-20th century, one of the most popular ways to convey personal thoughts was by postcard. Cheap and swiftly sent, they’re now found in antique stores and yard sales everywhere.
An old friend recently gave me a frayed green leather album of postcards collected from 1906-1910 by a distant relative. The postcard covers — hundreds of them — are printed with gaudy posies and quaintly formal sentiments: “A Joyful Easter;” “Right Happy Birthday Greetings;” “With Kindest Regards.”
Postcards’ tiny real estate and public nature forced their users to be concise and discreet. They asked about illness, expressed comfort and announced life-changing events as succinctly as a Tweet: “On some lonesome rainy day, remember me – Orlie.” “I expect you think I have forgotten you, but it is not so – Anna.” “Your sister Bessie has got a girl baby she called Florence – Ma.”
In my album, the everyday looms large. They let the reader know what was served at the family’s Christmas dinner; that the dance was missed for muddy roads, not another flirtation; that Dad is back to work at last. Romance beckoned from a single enigmatic initial signed on a Valentine. The words are plain as a shovel, but their implied messages are timeless: You are in my thoughts. Everything will be all right. You’re important to me. I love you.
I never knew the people whose words were caught in a passing moment on these bits of paper, but I’ll never forget them.
Words of love can be as enduring as stone in their way, as we know from civilization’s most ancient writings. But I wonder if the digital messages we drop like breadcrumbs everywhere in the ether today (“Driving Jake 2 soccer, C U @ Crossfit?”) will survive for the readers of tomorrow – or whether they will care.
Here’s my pitch to consider leaving some breadcrumbs of your own on actual paper – a few words that illuminate you and the time in which you live for your loved ones down the line … or maybe just a stranger in an antique store who’ll never know you, but who’ll never forget you either.