Tuesday, January 15, 2013

To Hold Time In Your Hands

I've been antiquing all week-end. One of my favorite things to do ... as a writer. Michael and I took a quick trip to Columbus to visit with our daughter. Among the things we love in Columbus (besides eating in fabulous Columbus restaurants) is to hunt the best antique shops.

Antique shops are a place where the writer can connect with history up close and personal. I'm not talking about expensive antique furniture. It's the little things that set my soul on fire. Vintage linens and jewelry, a set of tin canisters from the 1950s, hats and purses from the 1920s, quilts, book ends and of course, old books. My mind wanders while the stories percolate under my skin. I'm usually itching to start writing after a weekend of antique and thrift store shopping.

Sunday we discovered an antique mall where someone had collected thousands of old postcards from every city in Ohio. People communicated via postcards from the late 1800s until they installed telephones in the 1930s and 40s. To me, postcards were the first form of TEXTING. It was a way to send a "quick" message to Auntie in the next town or state.

It cost a one cent stamp to send a post card. All the cards in the bins were addressed in a simple fashion. Miss Bella Juhn, Mansfield, Ohio. Somehow, it magically arrived in Miss Bella's mailbox. No house number, no zip code. The Mansfield postman just knew where Miss Bella lived.


Sifting through those postcards, I wanted to spend the day reading each and every fascinating one of them. My daughter bought three to frame. Each card cost from one to two dollars. Can you imagine what the sender of that postcard would think if they knew we paid two dollars for their penny postcard?

I bought only one. One that begged me to take it home. The card was postmarked Wooster, Ohio, July 24, 2:30 p.m., 1909 from a man to his sister in Mansfield. It reads as follows:

Dear Sister,
I got your card this morning. It was a beauty. Well I am trying to be good but I can't, so I'll just be careful and let it go at that. I heard a lot of darkies sing last night. They were wonderful. It was the Ferguson Jubilee Singers. I never laughed so hard in my life. Goodbye, your brother.

A simple note from a brother to his sister in a town about forty miles away. Communicating was by telegraph or post. Or showing up unannounced. His sister had told him to "be good." Hmmm. I can imagine an entire scene based on that one sentence. And of course the word "darkies" caught my eye. As if it was normal to say. The other side of the card is an old picture of some park in Wooster, Ohio that no longer exists. It's a housing development now.

Holding this piece of history in my hands, my fingers tingle. Any old picture, like the one above, is packed full with story. Old books, photographs, postcards, letters, and maps--an abundant supply of story. Mixing the real of the past with fiction is a calling for some. It's up to the writer to pull it out and make something beautiful out of it.

Blessings to you and yours.

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