Saturday, July 14, 2012

Letters from the Past

A new post? Just a day after the last one??

I know, I'm surprised.

Throughout this blog I have fearlessly listed some of my quirks. Like how I'm quasi-obsessed with Quantum Mechanics and Dr. Who. And I have a weird fascination with cemeteries. I especially love epitaphs; the family have one line to describe the life of their loved one. It's always interesting to see what they choose to encompass a lifetime of laughter, love, and hardship. Ninety years. One sentence.

I already know what I want to be on my gravestone. (what? that's not odd!)

Traveler by the roadside 
Do not weep when you see this grave
For I am not dead, merely asleep

I think I read that on the internet a long time ago...some poem started off with that....I think....

But! Today's post is not about cemeteries or tombstones or any of that. A couple of years ago I was rummaging through a huge flea market. I wasn't expecting to find anything of value. The building was packed with shelves of 80s books and half-broken furniture.

I was looking through a bookcase when I stumbled upon a small, unassuming, wooden box. (dramatic music plays) Opening it, I found a huge stack of postcards. Ranging from the early 1900s to the early 2000s, almost every postcard had a message. Small snapshots of life covered the aging paper as I pulled them out of the box and laid them on a nearby table. I poured over every one of them, eagerly taking in the dates, and the interestingly pedestrian messages (paradoxes for the win!). When the postcards were written, I doubt that the people writing them ever thought that fifty years later a complete stranger would read how their house was finally finished, or their vacation was amazing.

A couple postcards in particular stood out. The messages inscribe on them were not run of the mill. They didn't exclaim about exotic locations. They weren't college kids assuring their parents that they were still alive.

" hopes of hearing from you, to mend an aching heart......I'm feeling lonesome since not hearing from you....from a dear friend..."

The postcard was covered in fancy script, the words bleeding together as the author tried to fit too much on too small a space. I can almost hear the authors voice as she pleads to her friend. In my mind I create a back story-- she was in love with him, a Mr. Jeremiah. She, for some reason, had to move away from him to Chicago, a place she referred to as 'Chi'. He wasn't far away, geographically speaking, in Tonica, Illinois, but from the message he might as well been in Europe. He hadn't written, hadn't called and now she sends out a postcard, full of the hurt she feels. She doesn't sign her name...and I don't know why. She merely refers to herself as a 'dear friend', as if to make him regret not contacting her. Judging from the stamp on the post card, it was sent in 1911.

1911! That's more than a hundred years ago!

I wonder what Chicago was like in 1911. The Cubs would be winning. Wow, that's an odd sentence. (hey! I'm a Cubs fan, I'm allowed to make fun of them)

 My knowledge of history is frightfully lacking, but I bet that horses would still be a common sight in the streets, next to the new automobiles.

Our unnamed heroine probably took a train from Tonica to Chicago. What for? A job? Unlikely, an independent woman moving for a job wasn't exactly common.

She probably wouldn't have traveled alone, or at least she would have met someone in Chicago. Who? Her family? Her husband?

 I did some searching and found a Jeremiah Klag (spelled differently than the postcard, which has two g's) who was buried in Tonica, Illinois and might have lived there in 1911. He was a farmer, married to a woman named Ester.

I don't know if it was to this Jeremiah that the letter was sent but still, it sparks my imagination to try and discover these stranger's lives. How could they have ever imagined that, one hundred years after writing the postcard, a stranger would stumble upon it and wonder what happened next. Did he reply? How did this personal postcard end up in a flea market? I wonder if Jeremiah kept it his whole life, his children getting rid of it at some yard sale, trickling through the people until it ended up, tucked away in a dusty wooden box in Arkansas.

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