Postcards From The Past

She sat down next to me and reached her arm across the table. I mistook this extension of her hand as a welcome and so I turned to smile and introduce myself.  “I’m just plugging in ma’ phone,” she said dismissively and turned the plug over several different ways while squinting and pursing her lips looking for all the world like a monkey trying to figure out how to fit a square peg into a round hole.
Her short grey hair was permed into tight curls and her eye-glasses rested on the end of her nose.  She wore a denim jacket.  There may have been a button pinned to her lapel.  She was the type of person who would wear a button--flair--that might say something like “World’s greatest grandma’” or “If you can read this button, back off!”  That type of thing.

“So, you’re publishing something?” she asked without looking up.  She was reflecting on my question to the leader of the seminar regarding publication and how to attract an agent.
“Yes, a short memoir,” I said.

“M-hmm, and what’s it about?”
I paused.  It wasn’t like I didn’t know what it was about.  I had labored for months on it.  I could have recited it word for word, but telling the world’s greatest grandma’ that your memoir is a story about how your lesbian aunt and her psychic girlfriend took you to your first gay bar when you were eighteen years old fell short of grandma’ material.  But I told her anyway.

“And your mother never knew?” She asked, looking up briefly and sucking the wind through her teeth as if a popcorn kernel was stuck there.
“I told her,” I said.  It sounded defensive.

“M-hmm,” she said tilting her head back and looking down her nose-tip glasses.
“This woman up front, now she’s got a story!” She said pointing to a woman in the front row.  And she did, too.  Her grandfather travelled the west in the early 1900’s taking pictures during the day and developing them at night, turning them into post cards.  She planned on retracing his footsteps, visiting all of those places he had been.

“Well, it’s more of an idea than it is a story, she hasn’t written anything…” I said and then the old woman shoved a picture into my hand.
“That’s my grandfather, my mother and that’s me,” she pointed with her wrinkled finger at an old black and white photograph.  She turned it over and pointed out her website and explained that she would be writing a story about her Greek ancestry and her mother’s recipes.

“Kind of like my Big Fat Greek Wedding.  But none of us were fat,” she said.
I reached into my pocket, pulled out my card and gave it to her.  On the right hand side was a picture of me. She held up the card next to my face and looked from me to my card and back again, smiling enigmatically.  I knew what she wanted to say, that this picture looked better than the person sitting in front of her. 

But if you stretched back the borders of the picture you would see a handsome man sitting next to me, the tilted evening summer sun painting everything the golden color of a memory and Nubble  lighthouse just up the road sitting on a rocky outcropping in the cold Atlantic ocean . If you could rotate the picture you would see five young adults laughing, one of them holding the camera and telling their fathers to smile.  

No one could ever look as good or as happy as that person in time.
The old lady waved the young woman from the front row down and began to tell her how much alike their stories were.  For the life of me I could not understand how my “Big fat Greek Wedding” was anything like Postcards from the Wild West.  But it did not matter; she could see herself in that picture just as surely as she could not see herself in the picture of an eighteen year old boy sitting in a bar on the edge of some Colorado town.

We wished each other luck and parted ways, returning to our time machines hurtling down the roads to our past. The young woman from the front row sleeping under the open sky with nothing but a big yellow moon, crying coyotes and her grandfather’s voice to keep her company, the old lady, young again, baking sweet walnut sugar cookies with her mother’s ghost and a young, uncertain boy sitting on a bar stool listening to his Aunt Sheila tell him that he was beautiful just the way God made him.
Once in a while, we'll pick up a postcard and jot a few lines on the back, letting you know we made it here or how beautiful it is, but we can never be certain who might receive our postcards from the past or if you can even understand the handwriting.  Sometimes you might recognize a piece of yourself in one of those pictures or hope to visit a place that we have been and you might tape it to the refrigerator in your mind so that it sticks with you for a while.  When that happens it’s like electricity. Because each of us is really just searching for a connection that lets us know that we are not alone, that we are alive.  And when that happens?

I hope you’ll write back.


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