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Racist Postcards and Red-Headed Girls Who Cuss

I used to collect antique postcards when I was in college, or “vintage” for you excessively modernist cats. Racist postcards were especially treasured finds. I guess I thought I was being post-ironic and hip or something, because I was a man of the learned present, not some regressive ape from the 40s, or 20s, or whenever it was this buried loot came up from whence.

Funny how things come back to you. I was going through the pictures I’ve been scanning for my mom, and these postcards turn up. I’d really forgotten completely about them, until my mom reminded me that I used to be very excited about this hobby.

Giggling-at-bigots yucks aside, the thing I never did when I first found these, apparently, was stop and read the back sides of them. Because they are full of messages from the Facebook that your grandpa knew about. Telling you who is bored and who had the gout and who had duck and green beans for supper. Also there is a check for $2.50 in the mail from your Uncle Grover and it is intended for you to buy some Xmas presents for your cousins. Always Xmas because space on postcards is small and writing is large.

The stories they tell are shrunken monologues, one-act plays divorced from context without any apparent resolution. You are dropped like a heavy sack into the middle of a room full of people you have never met.

Dear Sister, Mother & Dad;

Whether or not I’m still able to kick, I am still able to “cuss.” I have a red-headed girl helping me and she can “cuss” too. Between us we keep the atmosphere pretty well disinfected. Except for two short trips to S.L.O. I haven’t been out of this flea bitten town for about 5 months. It it were not for the Navy unit here I believe I’d quit, “go over the hill” as the military men say who don’t like their job. Well, the war isn’t over yet by a long shot, and I haven’t much of an idea what the future has in store. I have asked for a transfer & indicated I will go anywhere for the duration.

— Heston

The card shows a picture of Paso Robles on the front, a sleep, pretty little town in the Central Coast area of California, known primarily for its excellent wines and occasional bone-rattling earthquakes. Heston could have been stationed at Fort Roberts, which is somewhat north of Paso Robles and served during WWII and the Korean War as a transition base for troops headed across the Pacific.

The date of the card is 6/27/43, about four months before the launch of the Gilbert and Marshall Islands campaign, which would set the stage for some of the bloodiest fighting in military history as the Allies hopped island by island on a grim train bound for mainland Japan. Yep. I would have bitched about my bivouac, too.

Usually, though, people sent postcards as a way of reminding others that they existed without the formality of a letter. To demand money, or to announce an arrival, or just to request a little attention. The art on the front rarely matched the sentiments expressed on the back, except maybe unintentionally.

On 12 April, 1913, a postcard was sent to Mr. N.C. Pierce of Strong, Colorado, by one Lessie Randolph of [town illegible], also in Colorado.

Hell! How are you? I am dandy fine. There is to be a Dance here April 19, and you want to be sure and come. I’ll look for you and you better come. If you don’t I’ll never never like you anymore. I guess you wouldn’t care anyway, would you?

In the early part of the last century, people were penalized quite severely for missing the dance, as television had not yet been invented and the only other form of mass popular entertainment was following ambulances on horseback and hoping to catch random bits of carnage from railroad accidents or labor riots. On a lighter note, there was also widespread food poisoning.

Hello Twitter, I have met your grandmother. She’s kind of a lunatic.

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