Postcards Pending

posted Mar 8, 2021, 3:29 PM by Bruce Rowe

As a boy, I enjoyed receiving occasional postcards from relatives, postcards from places quite foreign to me then. Later, when I joined the Navy, I would often use postcards to keep in touch with friends and family as it was inexpensive and easy to do. As I continued my travels later in life, I continued this practice, because I noticed often in some places, postcards were the most attractive gifts one could find. Not only for others, but as mementos of places I had been. Why not send them to ourselves?

In the military, in business, or later working for FEMA in disaster after disaster, I found myself in many small towns, cities, and states that I had never or rarely visited before, using postcards to share the experience. Thus began the Bozo cards.Bozo, a large, black and white cat on her back.

Bozo was my cat. A very lazy and sometimes ornery black and white cat. She lounged around the house, occasionally making life difficult for mice, but mostly sleeping. Returning from a trip, she would hop on the bed and straddle my chest with her nose next to mine. I took it as her telling me she missed me, but probably she was informing me that she got along without me very well.

So what does this have to do with postcards? Thinking again about using postcards for souvenirs, I decided to record my various travel on postcards mailed to Bozo. What the heck, the postman didn’t care who they went to as long as the address was right. This way I could send a picture along with a postmark and stamp and include the date and a short message as to where I was, what I was doing, and what the experience meant to me. Soon after returning home, the postcard would arrive and I would read it to Bozo. She would never seem too terribly excited, but it would bring back to my memory a trip experience that I enjoyed sharing.

Thus began many decades ago a history of my travels around the world. Travels that went beyond Bozo to Scheherazade (Shazzy), another cat, and now to BoB (an acronym for bucket of bolts), a full-sized suit of armor setting in my entryway to ward off ill doers. And to Humility, a 3-dimensional mural of a mature woman holding a parasol in her flower garden, hanging in my hallway. As the new recipients of my postcards, the practice of buying and mailing them has not changed, but my messages are more appropriate to such an esteemed pair.

Suit of medieval armor with a large red flower at its waist.

My cards also go to a few friends and family members. My eldest daughter retains the cards as treasure in a Cinderella glass box on top of her bookcase. Another daughter posted them on her refrigerator until she ran out of room. The pictures on the cards are always appropriate and the messages are sincere, although a bit brief at times. I avoid the very pricey wooden, three-dimensional or other-worldly postcards, but stick to those that best illustrate where I am and what I am seeing.

The cards now number in the hundred, as I made it my custom to search out sources of cards, stamps, and post offices early in each trip I made. For a while, I went crazy and attempted to send cards even on brief stops for potty breaks. Now I am more choosy as to the cards I send.

The first task in a foreign country was to learn where I could buy stamps; the post office, gift shops, or the local tobacconist. Then I had to deal with the amount of postage needed to get cards to the US. Sometimes this meant more than one or two stamps on each card, limiting the amount of personal message I could leave for BoB and Humility. I’ve had to put as many as five or six on some cards! Having traveled to more than 120 countries, that has been sometimes a challenge, but I have always been up to it.

Times have changed. With smart phones, everyone is a photographer, and with the internet, people no longer share the need to send postcards. In fact, it sometimes becomes almost impossible to buy cards or stamps, or to find places where they can be mailed. Even major hotels like Hilton and Marriott will often not agree to add your stamped card to their own mail, and don’t have a convenient place from which you can do so.

Colombia still markets postcards in their tourist shops and malls, but they don’t sell stamps other than at a tobacconist. Even having the card with the correct postage, I spent an entire afternoon in Cartagena trying to mail postcards. With limited Spanish, I inquired about correos, carte postal, officina postal, officina correos, etc. I was directed down the street and always with the words “472.” Asking policemen, firemen, and people on the street who looked as though they could help, the answer was always 472. We suspected it was an address, but this led us nowhere.

Finally, at one of the largest tourist shops in Cartagena, we spotted a small brightly painted blue box on the wall with a slot in the lid labeled 472. Was this the only remnant of a post office in Colombia? We still don’t know. The life of us postcarders is getting more difficult. It seems we are a dying breed and the world is changing so fast that we will soon be non-existent.

Consider Egypt. Recent travels took us to Egypt and then to Jordan. Following my usual custom, I inquired about postage stamps and was directed to a tobacconist in Giza City. Sure enough, I found stamps and learned which combinations were necessary to assure delivery in the US. Then, finding postcards was not difficult as most gift shops carried them. Not only in Cairo, Alexandria, and Giza, but also in Edfu, Kom Ombo, and Abu Simbel.

Globe shaped, brass mail box in Egypt.
I dutifully completed and stamped my cards at each of these travel locations and posted them, usually at a post office, in an official postbox, or in a hotel. Our own hotel in Giza had an elaborate brass mailbox in the lobby shaped like a globe of the world. How could that fail me?

Guess what? Every single card I mailed from Jordan arrived, and even all the cards I mailed from Australia, Tasmania & New Zealand in a much later trip. Egypt? Nothing! Not one card from any of the locations.

I have mentioned this situation to postal officials here, who seem to blow it off as insignificant. Insignificant? What if other than a postcard it was a letter of vital, earth-shaking importance? Would that have fared any better than any one of the postcards I mailed? What is going on in this world of ours? Does Egypt still have a postal system?

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