Picture this: Once upon a time, not so long ago, there was no internet. Therefore, there were no blog posts, Facebook pages, Instagram shots or even e-mails. It’s hard to believe, but true. So when vacation time rolled around and it was important to share the memories with friends and families, there was only one solution – the picture postcard. It wasn’t instantaneous, but that’s just one reason why they were so very special to receive. Postmarks from faraway places and cool stamps added to the cachet. Happy was the day when I came back from the mailbox waving a small piece of the world in my hand … I merited the receipt of a postcard!
Planning to send postcards was a ritual in our family, and I suspect it was in other families as well, judging from the colorful scenes that appeared sandwiched in between bills and advertisements during the course of any given summer. Snowcapped mountains, strange southwestern cacti, historic monuments, and state maps all spoke of family travels and high adventure. But for us, the very best postcards were the ones we could send to our family and friends from the Outer Banks.
The whole exercise began weeks before departure, as we made lists of who would be the lucky recipients of our cards. Given that as children my brother and I had a set allowance, we had to take into consideration not just the cost of the postcard, (perhaps a whopping 20 cents each), but also the postage, which according to Google would have been somewhere in the neighborhood of 6 cents in 1972, and less than that in the 1960s. Therefore, our list had to be trimmed to fit our budget. There were only a select few friends and relatives who would receive them, (excluding grandparents, who always made the list.)
We had to handwrite the names and addresses on notebook paper, which often turned out to be a penmanship exercise as much as anything else. As I learned to write in cursive – (wow, I do feel old now!) – I certainly wanted to be able to use that new skill on my postcards. Then, with the list carefully included in our hard-sided suitcases, we headed to the beach.
Our family was very fortunate. We could spend two weeks each summer on Hatteras Island, courtesy of my dad’s employment. So we weren’t in dire straits if we didn’t get our cards sent right away. Usually, the cards would arrive before we got back home. But it wasn’t long into that first week that we had to make our choices from the local shop and get down to business. Which ones to pick, and perhaps equally important, what to say?
There were just so many choices, but it always seemed to come down to a few. The winner by far was the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, (which is no surprise.) And since we could actually see that great beacon from where we stayed, it was certainly an accurate reflection of our experience. But there were other postcards in the mix – ghosts crabs glaring, gulls aloft, pelicans perching, bluefish bounty, and the ferry in all its ferry glory.
Writing time was usually right after dinner, so that the next morning we could dutifully take our cards and place them in the slot at the Buxton Post Office. What did we write?
I’d love to say that I often filled that tiny space with tales of our thrilling adventures, but for the most part, (and especially if I got writers’ cramp), the message consisted of those eight infamous words… “having a wonderful time, wish you were here!”
As a postscript, I would add that you can still find picture postcards. We sell them at our motel for the amazing 1970’s price of 25 cents each, or five for a dollar. And many gift shops still sell them as well. I popped into Buxton Village Books the other day, and noted that Gee Gee has a fine selection. So if you are feeling nostalgic, (if you are my age), or maybe a bit retro, (if you are a child of the 80s or later), grab a real ink pen, and a postcard, and look in your car tray for some change for the stamps and send a postcard or two. Make someone’s day!
Janet Morrow Dawson is the owner and operator of the Cape Hatteras Motel in Buxton, where her husband Dave is celebrating his 50th season there in 2021. She has lived full-time on Hatteras Island since 2015 and is celebrating her seventh season at the motel, however, she has been an Outer Banks fan since her family started coming to Hatteras Island for vacations in 1964.