I bought my first antique postcard around 1980. Mama and I were junkin’ at Law’s Flea, a stockyard turned antique market every Sunday. A man was selling postcards. I flipped through a box and pulled out one showing a wild turkey sitting on a fence in the moonlight. It was the prettiest thing I’d ever seen. The Thanksgiving postcard, dated 1908, started us both collecting holiday postcards.
Mama preferred the “turkey cards,” as she called them, while I gravitated to Halloween (the most expensive) and New Year’s. I loved the New Year’s cards because they depicted good-luck imagery: four-leafed clovers, spiders, horseshoes. I’m hopelessly superstitious (a trait from Mama)—I never take the tree down until New Year’s Day and always fix black-eyed peas and collard greens.
I found mostly 1908 New Year’s cards. The penny postcard (made possible by cheap but gorgeous German lithography) and the penny stamp came into popular use that year. Many people didn’t have telephones, but in larger towns and cities, mail was delivered three times a day. You could write a postcard inviting someone over for supper, they’d get it, and reply they’d be there.
Each January I’ve displayed my favorite 1908 postcards. In the 80s, I told myself they’d soon be 80 years old, then 90, then 100. In 2008, I pulled out all my 1908 cards and tucked them all over the house. Most of them look as if they were bought and sent the week before.
This New Year’s I’m sick with a rotten sinus infection. I spent a festive New Year’s Eve in Patient First, making sure I didn’t have pneumonia. I don’t, but I’m aware that my slowness in recovering is a sign of age. I’ll be 66 in July, considered old back in 1908. I didn’t feel much like digging out my postcard collection, but I did anyway, adding wintry silk flowers and my stepfather’s coin silver watch.
It’s 2018, and my collection is 110 years old. I re-read the messages, admiring the lovely penmanship, and wondering what “H”s “dandy” Christmas was like—oranges in the toe of a sock, maybe ribbon candy, neighbors caroling in the snowy road—and longed for that simpler time. My ever-practical sister, when I called to croakily wish her a happy New Year, reminded me I’d have no amoxycillin, no Flonase, no central heating if I lived in 1908. Maybe not, but I still believe 1908 was better than now.
Tell me what’s lovely about texting a friend a New Year’s greeting? Where are the four-leafed clovers, the forget-me-nots, the gilded horseshoes? A party-hat emoji doesn’t cut it. I already sent Christmas cards, but I’m also sending New Year’s cards.
I’ll keep my 1908 cards up till February. Then I’ll pull out my vintage Valentines, still wishing for a simpler time.