Monday, November 13, 2006

Gratuitous postcard: found, yet still lost

Postcard:  Full House
Who are these children? Where are they now?

Those who know me, know I like attending the local auctions. I've told people repeatedly that, being an agnostic, I can't find a better church than one in which no particular faith is professed, there is some moderate, friendly competition, and in general, each week the same familiar, friendly faces gather (yesterday, in fact, I was later than usual, and Mom got there ahead of me for the first time in more than a year. Everybody asked her where I was and if I were okay. She refrained from saying something about that being a relative thing).

It keeps me connected to humanity.

At auction, among other things, I like buying postcards. You'd probably never guess that of me, by simply looking at my blog. Due to my budget and my disabilities, I know I will never get to most of the places I find on those little rectangles of heavy paper. In some cases, the things I find on postcards have long ago been destroyed or lost, so, again, there is no chance for me to experience them. Yet I live vicariously through these papers designed to make a missive more interesting, to share a piece of what the traveler sees. I do see the past, the distant, the imagined.

But I'm always saddened when I find the family photo cards, with no identifying marks upon them, like the one above. I often also see old family pictures (without postcard marks on the back), scrapbooks, diaries, diplomas, the occasional birth certificate, marriage license, and other personal papers among the stacks of unidentified remnants, at auctions.

Worse, last week, I ended up buying some stranger's white gold wedding band for a shamefully low amount (face it -- if I can afford it, it has to be a shamefully low price). It was in a small lot which also included a flint arrowhead, a 1900-ish bone-handled button hook, and a 19th century aluminum manicure tool. I could see selling off the button hook, the arrow head, and the manicure tool. Their days of use are long past, and their condition was not good enough to be considered remotely precious. But the ring was still solid and circular and lovely. It was too good to be personal detritus to be sold for a pittance to an unknown bidder.

The ring, the photos, the papers, though, all used to mean something very important to somebody, once upon a time. They represented promise, hope, love, family, and so many other things... and yet, there they lay in cardboard flats, sold by the lot, to complete strangers who know nothing about the people once tied to them. Many of the photos come for sale completely unmarked -- not even an "Uncle John at his 30th birthday party" or "Tillie at the Prom".

This ring, these pictures, are the fluff of a dandelion, with no seed attached. The seed -- the remembrance, the promises of continuity, the ultimate humanity they represented -- that has been lost even before the wind carries the fluff to my hand. They will not bring another flower of recognition. They lost their future when they were separated from their history.

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