Vapor Trails

Back in the day when a Blackberry was something picked on the side of a country road and a Bluetooth was how your mouth looked after nibbling on too many blackberries, the most popular way to send a brief note to someone was by postcard. We witnessed the fading days of their golden era in the 1970's, when summertime mail included assorted postcards from friends and family on vacation who felt obliged to send a short message from some faraway tourist destination. The cards documented the weather (always warm) and the sunsets (always beautiful). Before chain hotels and fast food restaurants overtook the interstates, postcards could be found at almost every Mom and Pop motel and greasy spoon diner. Like the Riverview Motel on River Road in Harrisburg, PA, where the rooms are modernly furnished, steam heated, and have showers. To make a reservation just dial CEdar 39822!

At Kaleidoscope Used Books in Ann Arbor, you'll find stacks and stacks of old postcards (according to the owner, they have over 10,000. We concur with that estimate). Some are very rare (like a pre-WWII Japanese beheading postcard. Who would want to get that in the mail?), but most display freeways and museums and natural attractions and assorted apple pie Americana. Flipping through the postcard collection is a portal to the past and reading messages written by people decades ago allows for a brief glimpse into their life experience. The handwritten notes, scribbled in pencil and faded from the years, are akin to vapor trails; a term used in quantum physics to describe the remnant signs of sub-atomic particles after their energy dissipates into the vacuum of time and space.

So we bought a few of the cards and scanned them to share with you. The writers, no doubt, never fathomed that decades later their messages would be posted on some lamebrain blog. And somewhere, from the far reaches of the universe, they are reading this and chuckling at the absurdity of it all.

Greetings from LA. Having a delightful visit! wrote Martha Gainsburg to Mr. and Mrs. Gehrman on April 18, 1960, on a card with this pool scene at the Cavalier Hotel, where the ladies (looking like models from a Sears catalog) adorn modest swimwear and high heels- even when on the diving board. The men are standing watch over the pool, as if parahna fish were seen lurking earlier in the shallow end. Notice how no one dares enter the dangerous water.

Other cards, like this one dated August 24, 1941(addressed to "Miss Wendt, Toledo, OH"), mark a time when America was small enough that mail service only needed a name and city. This country is beautiful. Having a busy time, going places and see and seeing things. Mrs. Degener. We've been through Kansas a few times and beg to differ with her assessment of the geographical center of the U.S.A.

From the far northern reaches of Quebec, "Master Craig Hudson" received this card from "Johnson" on August 19, 1960. Hi. There is much of this country to see and they sell excellent ice cream. Evidently the deer in Quebec have little fear of mankind- take a nap under a tree and you might awaken to the sensation of a fawn licking vanilla flecks from your chin.

Not all cards are cheery and bright. "Mr. and Mrs. P.M. Haskell" of Lima, OH, received this note on July 12, 1953: We came to see Lester we only could see him a few minutes. He is still under restriction so we saw him a few minutes. Floyd went to find out where he was and he saw me in the car and came running. You come the week of Aug 2. See he will be under restriction. A google search of Station Hospital revealed it served American POWs. We hope Lester overcame his afflictions in quick order and went on to live his life without restriction.

Mrs. Alice Teare was sent this card displaying Hairpin Curve near Lewiston, Idaho (postmarked September 28, 1964): We are about ready to climb 4,000 feet from the river valley of Lewiston, where we spent last night. Yes- today we crawled up one even worse- car over-heated part way up and we had to let it cool down and re-fill the radiator. No problem tho as we lots of H2O in our tanks. We are fine and hope you are too. Merton and Mary. We can attest that Hairpin Curve, Idaho, is still causing cars to overheat, forty-three years later.

Mrs. C.R. Van Bruggen recieved this nice card from Hartwick Pines State Park near Houghton Lake, MI, on October 14, 1957. Jim and Dee took us up to the old logging country and to this lodge today. Lovely sunny day. Hope all okay with you. Louise. Notice the white writing on the wooden bench- that is not painted lettering. Back in the hay day of black and white postcards, messages were scratched into the enamel of the negatives. And if anyone recognizes the serious-looking man in the portrait above the fireplace, let us know. We suspect he is Major Edward E. Hartwick, who died overseas in WWI and his widow later donated the land from their logging empire to the State of Michigan.

This gem from the Roanoke Courts Motel in Roanoke, Alabama, comes with a message but no name or address. This was not uncommon- some people bought nickel postcards just to document a pleasant motel stay or ocean overlook. April 25, 1957. Room cost 4.00 very nice for that and so clean. Came from Moticello Fla today- 260 miles. This is the same room I had last fall Oct 27 when I went South. Such a clean place and the lady who manages it is sure nice; her name is Mrs. Hornsby. Got here about 4:30 had supper in town. Mrs. Hornsby no doubt appreciates your kind words, whoever you are. And Room 6 will always be your special room.

Mr. Wm R Mcgee in Jackson, MI, received this postcard of the Feather River Canyon on August 26, 1962. Bill, this is beautiful country came through here on the train. It was really something to see the snow covered mts. We arrived at Gerber last nite which is about 40 miles from Jo & Howard they were there to meet us and to our surprise R&G were with them. Arrived sooner than expected. Hope all are fine- Mom and Dad. It does look awfully nice there. We'll have to visit someday- maybe launch a boat on the Feather River.

Kirk at Bowling Green State University received this postcard of McCutcheon Residence Hall at Purdue dated March of 1984: Hello Kirk, Thanks for the card. Well, all is fine on this end. My physics sucks, English is boring. Calculus is not easy. German so so. This weather is great for morale, rotten for scholastics. 2.5 weeks till spring break. Can't wait. I saw Bren last weekend. 1st time in 4 weeks. Too long!!! You're right, we are close as ever. Maybe too close for 19. P.S. Been to any proms lately?!!! Bob

Bob and Bren may have been a college fling that ended two months later. Or maybe they're happily married now with three kids and a dog and a nice house in Indiana. We'll never know. But the vapor trail lasts forever.

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