Sunday, December 19, 2010

Life is ephemeral

Whenever I go to an antique store, I look for the postcard section. It has always fascinated me that when people die, often their memory is erased from the general consciousness. When my grandfather passed on, my father handed me some WWII-era dogtags. On the tarnished, flat, metallic labels was engraved my grandfather's mother's name, as well as their address in Philadelphia. I had never asked him where he lived; of course I had to do a google search. The streetview app showed a vacant lot, and listed the address as approximate. A heavy sadness filled me, as I thought about all of the times, good and bad, that happened in that house. Of course, no one will ever know about those because the house has long been torn down and anyone who lived there has passed. My great aunt is still alive, and at 92 years old, is still fairly active. I should probably interview her, so I can capture the history of my family.

On a recent trip to yet another antique store, I purchased some postcards sent from or to people in my area of the city (the South Side, between National and Lincoln Aves.). Why would I spend money on a relic that sort of chronicles someone else's family history? It is obvious that no other person wanted them, since I found them at an antique store. Probably bought cheap from some estate sale. There is something almost magical about touching an object as personal as a postcard. They are the "thought that counts". No monetary value but priceless, coming almost certainly from loved ones. Especially in a year like 1909, when it was probably easier and cheaper to send a card than to make a phone call.

As I read the cards, I thought about the fact that these people are long gone and wondered why someone would sell or give away proof of their existence. Not only do these prove that they lived, but they are like recorded snapshots of personal relationships. There is a certain melancholy that takes over when one realizes how fleeting life can be. Gladys and Mildred, Miss Kurtz and F. & R., Gini Krawczyk and Dorothy and Bill Gruel... All of these people are gone, and all of the things they said and did in their lives all but forgotten, except for these postcards.

I have set out to find the houses that received these documents. The only one so far that still exists is 1747 S. 32nd St. A bungalow not unlike the one in which I live. Still well maintained. It's absolutely mind-blowing to think that in 1935-1940, Bill and Dorothy ate dinner every night and talked to their friends Gini and Aug. Maybe they had children. Their house is right behind the public par and pool. What a great location for kids!

We can imagine that they went to church every Sunday. Maybe they drove, maybe they took the street car. Did they play cards every Friday? Did they go dancing to the sounds of the local big bands? Did they know someone who was killed in the war?

What about Miss M. Kurtz? What was her first name? How old was she when she received the card? Who were F. and R.? Why were they "going to Stevens Point this afternoon"? These are questions that will never be answered, yet beg to be.

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