Robert Olen Butler‘s book, Had a Good Time, is a group of short stories inspired by selections from his collection of vintage postcards. The Atlantic reviewer of Had a Good Time explained, “Butler dug for glimpses of story—or as he says, ‘little fragments of expressed life’—in the written messages on the back.”
It sounds like a wonderful technique for finding stories. Reading the backs of old postcards is like traveling in a time machine to overhear a conversation that took place decades ago.
Here are a couple samples from my postcard collection. Lately I’ve been looking for postcards from my hometown, Shoals, Indiana. These two came up on ebay recently:
The handwriting is very difficult to read. The card was sent by Casandra [Illegible] to Miss grace B. Tooley(?) of Plainville, Indiana, and reads: “Dear Grace this is a true picture of the jug Rock but is dim but when you come to see me I will take you to see it I am Glad I met you hope will meet you again and have a good time love and best wishes to you Casandra (?).”
This postcard photo looks out over the East Fork of the White River, looking down from the Pinnacle. My sister and I got in very bad trouble at right about the spot where this photo was taken when we were about 5 and 2. We followed our cousins up the trail, which as I remember, was along a ledge about 4 inches deep, to the Pinnacle after a picnic without asking permission first.