Sunday, February 12, 2012


I got a special packet in the mail this week. My cousin Joy sent me a collection of postcards which I believe came through her mother. All were written by someone in our family to someone in the writer’s family. Most, but not all, recipients were also our family, such as when my grandmother or grandfather wrote to her parents or his mother—i.e., my great-grandparents. Dates on them ranged from 1907 to 1944 during the War. Almost all carried 1-cent stamps.

One was written to my great-great-grandmother in August 1909 just four months before she died. It’s from a nephew of hers who years later planted in me the first germ of love for genealogy. He has an interesting handwriting—surprisingly tiny for a man, and quite neat, but so far I haven’t been able to decipher all of it. He says he wants to see her “so bad”—I wonder if that happened before she died in December?

The front of that card is special because it is of the North Chester Church which was my grandfather’s first pastorate where he met and married my grandmother, and where generations of my ancestors attended, out there in the countryside northwest of Grand Rapids, Michigan. In the little bit I have dabbled in painting, I have done a small painting of it, steeple and all. In our recent trips up there, we’ve been sad to discover that the top part of the steeple is no longer. Our guess is that when it deteriorated too much, it was too expensive to rebuild as it had been, so they just finished it off with something simple.

One postcard is a cartoon sketch written to my other great-grandmother by her stepson. It’s postmarked 1908 and shows a guy in the bathroom with suspenders down, splashing water on his face from the commode while he complains, “Goll darn this old wash basin anyway. The water runs out before I can wash my face.” Methinks there’s a bit of a history lesson there somewhere.

My grandfather was a preacher who traveled a lot, and many of these postcards are a testament to that. One is a picture of the Old North Church in Boston. I’m impressed with how often in his travels he wrote to his in-laws and how he never failed to address them as “Dear Father and Mother.”

Two priceless postcards relate directly to me. One is of a broad street in Paris in late 1938. My parents and I (age two) spent seven months there while they studied French in order to continue their mission work in the French colony of French Equatorial Africa (as it was known before independence divided it into four separate countries). My mother wrote on the back that the penciled arrow at the far end of the street was the point from which my father had taken a picture of “our street.” She also wrote, “We go down the steps right across from there the other way to get our groceries—around the lower street.”

The one that touches my heart the most is dated Aug. 24, 1938. It predates the Paris street one perhaps by only a few weeks. It boasts of being an “actual photograph” of the ocean-going vessel, the S.S. New York. My grandmother writes to her parents:

“Dear Ones – We are here in N.Y. and this is the boat they sail on tonight. We have been all through [it]. It is hard to see them go, but God’s Grace is sufficient. We had a good trip here & and a fun time at our [mission] conference in Cory [PA]. We leave for home tonight. Love, Fern.”

“It is hard to see them go,” she said.

I’m so glad they didn’t know that, because of the War already brewing, they would not see us again for seven years.


meredithlbl said...

How precious to receive the postcards from so long ago. I love reading about your family.

Elaine said...

Very interesting, Esther.