1010 North 14th Street; A Memoir
Clearing the family home following my mother’s death proved a difficult task. It wasn’t the accumulation of usable household goods that was overwhelming. These objects were easily tagged for an estate sale to follow the removal of family heirlooms. Mom sorted the inheritance issues before she died- tagging names on all the family’s invaluable, sentimental bits and pieces. My sister, Marcy, would take the dining room set; sister, Kathleen, the teacart with Grandmother’s silver and porcelain teacup collection; my brother, Jerry, inherited Dad’s guns and “manly” things.
Most difficult in the sorting and labeling was organizing the lavish hordes of personal mail that needed careful scrutiny, and decisions to be made to save or discard.
The stamped, opened envelopes with bill receipts, S&H green stamp booklets, medical, insurance and bank statements were boring to read and easy to toss away.
But, a treasure trove of post cards was stashed in the central drawer of Dad’s writing desk. Beautiful pictures from far distant lands with faded calligraphic notes written by friends, distant and close family members filled the large drawer. Stacked carefully, the cards were separated from the chaos of the other correspondences overflowing from the desk’s pigeonholes. The closed drawer had a slightly musty scent, but as I pulled out the dusty post cards, Mom’s signature eau de parfum, Rive Gauche, wafted from the stack along with the stale aroma of her pack-a-day, Virginia Slims cigarettes. The cardstock of the postcards was malleable, softened by much handling, and each had folded, ripped, curled or frayed corners.
I imagined Mom, sitting at the kitchen table flipping through the cards, red enameled nails, looking at the pictures through rhinestone bifocals and reading the greetings over and over again, while sipping Arco coffee and puffing a dainty cigarette in a cloud of blue smoke. Circular brown cup rings edged a few of the cards and red penned editorializing was emblazoned on some:
Uncle John’s new address in California;
Dixon family reunion, 1968, Edmonton, Alberta;
Kathleen’s new phone number on a post card from London.
Yellowed, crisp cellophane tape covered exotic stamps from destinations around the world. The first card I sent home, par avion, while a student in Paris read:
“I am saving my money, Mom! Do you know that shoes cost 120 francs or more a pair? C’est la vie! P.S. I lit a candle for you at Notre Dame. xxoo”.
Her cousin Jim and Margaret at a VFW convention in Honolulu wrote on the back of a glossy ocean scene with palm trees:
“At Pearl Harbor today-oil still leaking from sunken ships -damn that war”.
Cheerful lines on the back of a bright red lobster photo from Helen in New Brunswick:
“ Lobster Rolls are ready for you- come and visit!”
The joy of looking at the pictures- each carefully selected by the sender, deciphering the (mostly) cheerful notes was my connection to my mother’s life- what she dreamed, what she held dear. Most importantly, though, were the sensory experiences; the smell, look and feel of the postcards. This unique collection of post cards transcended time and place and brought me home- back to 1010 North 14th Street.
The difficulty was how to sort through them, save them, knowing too well that any new mail addressed here will be returned to sender or considered undeliverable.