My Yuletide Return

I’m baaaack! (Which you may have noticed with my kick-off post a couple of days ago). Yes, come the Christmas season and my concomitant yearning for a mailbox full of Christmas cards, I return to my blog, which celebrates all things sent, received, wrapped and anticipated.

With Christmas, our memories and boxes of old decorations feel renewed rather than recycled. And while we may never again be as wide-eyed as those first holidays of our childhood, the magic remains, waiting to be found and shared and, yes, MAILED.

So with a couple of photos from my own daughter’s first Christmas, welcome to the seasonal renewal of Post Whistle.

Postmen of Old New York

Mailmen.jpg.CROP.original-originalAccording to Slate, “Early in Martin Elkort’s career, the New York photographer would walk out of his home and adjust his camera settings to prepare for a day of street photography, with the comparable success rate of an amateur meteorologist lifting a finger to test the weather.”

One such day Elkhort caught three mailmen sorting through mail in 1947. From their peaked caps and short ties to their leather mailbags, the three exemplify a vanished era.

Back then, my parents lived on one of those same New York streets, and mailed and received letters that might have been delivered by one of those very postmen. Mail tied my mom to her sister and father in Baltimore, and my dad to his cousin and sister in the midwest. They provided a link to hometowns that moved at a different pace of life than the hurly burly bustle of madcap NYC.

The photo has such a sense of immediacy that I feel as if somewhere there should exist a “pause” button I could click off, allowing life on that 1947 corner to resume humming. Wouldn’t you love to step into that photo, cross the cobblestone street and see what’s around the corner?

Take a look at the article in Slate for a few more views of post World War II New York.

Film Friday: Mister Ed

Mister Ed 1Who remembers a silly TV series from the 1960s called Mister Ed? I thought a talking horse was hilarious when I was a kid and can still sing the theme song:

“A horse is a horse, of course, of course; and no one can talk to a horse, of course; that is, of course, unless the horse is the famous Mister Ed!”

Go right to the source and ask the horse; he’ll give you the answer that you’ll endorse; he’s always on a steady course, talk to Mister Ed.”

Mister Ed 2While my tastes — and television — have matured, Mister Ed and his 60s sitcom live on in Youtube. That’s where I discovered an episode entitled My Horse, the Mailman, which features Mister Ed trying to emulate the heroic deeds of his ancestors, namely, delivering the mail.

“Hi Wllbur, got any mail for the Pony Express?”

Mister Ed 3We see Mister Ed pick up a letter, steal a mailbag and wear a mailman’s hat and whistle, all while talking to the long-suffering Wilbur in his deep, deep voice.

Whenever people pine for the lost golden age of television, ask them why and send them the link below.

Film Friday: Do you give My Horse, the Mailman your stamp of approval?


Hi from Arizona

burro025Here’s a fun find from my postcard collection — though I suppose any statement that includes the words fun find and postcard collection might be tagged an oxymoron by many…

I don’t know whether you can tell from this image, but the postcard follows the contours of the burro and his silly photoshopped hat.

Several years ago my mom sent it to my daughter and me from Arizona. She affixed a regular postage stamp to it, but the post office stamped a “12¢ postage due” message on the back, maybe because its irregular shape required special sorting methods.

By the time my parents took this trip, my father was in his 80s and my mom in her late 70s. I can date the card even though the postmark isn’t legible because of Mom’s reference to our cat Junior, short for Mickey Jr. Clues like that not only help us sort incidents into our lives’ chronologies, but trigger reminiscences to cascade like dominoes through our family histories until another story pops out. Not necessarily grand tales, the stuff of sagas and best-selling biographies, but little stories like the history of cats being named Mickey in my family.

Mickey 1When my parents drove east to California as a young couple, they smuggled in and out of motel rooms an orange kitten named Mickey. In a sense, he was their first child, and as such we have many photos of his kittenhood, including one of him sitting on the plaid upholstery of my dad’s prized Packard.

I remember Mickey as the old gentleman of my childhood as younger cats and kittens came and went in our household, living the free — yet dangerous — lives of outdoor cats on a busy street.

Mickey 2When I was given a new fluffy orange kitten of my very own, I named him Mickey Junior. He was a polydactl, seven toes on each of his front paws. Mom called them his baseball mitts. That first Junior lived with my parents until the ripe old cat age of 19.

A few years later, I visited the shelter to find a friend for my Siamese and brought home a white cat with orange spots and an orange striped tail, enough for me to dub him Mickey 3. And so it has gone, my daughter calling her orange kitten Mickey Junior and our collectively naming our current orange fluff ball Mickey Lu (after the friend who gave him to us), though we simply call him Kitten.

Mickey 3 Mickey 4 Mickey 5

That little story of the five Mickeys encompasses a half century, from the British rock invasion of the 60s to Neil Armstrong landing on the moon to my heading off to college and Australia to home computers, the Internet and blogging.

And it all leads to me sharing a postcard from my mom: Hi from Arizona.

burro card back

Rare Art of Letter Writing

write-more-lettersWith depressing regularity, I find essays and news articles about the “Lost Art of Letter Writing.” I even wrote one myself for Newsweek in 2001.

Yet, however uncommon it may be to receive a letter, the art is not lost. No one needs to research arcane manuscripts to discover how the ancients communicated with pen and paper. Office supply stores still sell envelopes; card shops, drug stores and bookstores sell notecards; and even supermarkets sell stamps. Postmen travel their rounds. We all know how to construct written messages as we prove daily with texts, emails, and tweets.

Maybe all we lack is that focused moment when everything magically comes together — paper, envelope, pen, stamp and purpose. Perhaps what was once a common solitary activity needs to be reintroduced in a more social setting.

vka-letters-229301-jpgA museum in Canada recently set up a letter writing station in conjunction with an exhibit, promising to stamp and mail any letters that people wrote on site. The Jaffee Center for Book Arts at Florida Atlantic University holds Real Mail Fridays once a month to couple letter writing with coffee and cookies. And several libraries and local organizations are hosting their own letter writing parties. Should I organize something for Post Whistle in my area? Stay tuned for more on that idea.

In the meantime, Valentine’s Day approaches, and that’s a great reason to pop something in the mail. Let’s make the Rare Art of Letter Writing a little more common in our own corners of the world.

Doodles and Doodlers

doodle025When letters were common, they made good scratch paper. My mom, Carlyn Lendroth, doodled on the back of this envelope, and because she saved the letter, she saved the doodles.

Like an insect trapped in amber, her notes and drawing capture a slice of time from life at home.

Newporter’s on Jamboree Rd was a hotel in Newport Beach. My parents weren’t the kind of folks to stay overnight somewhere that was less than an hour’s drive from home, so perhaps they were meeting someone at the restaurant.

I have no idea what Mom was calculating with her columns of figures, but I hope it had nothing to do with my college expenses (it was my letter home in that envelope).

As for the languid torso of a woman, that was typical Mom. She studied fashion design in her early 20s and never stopped sketching women. When I was a little girl, she drew ladies in fluffy gowns for me to color with crayons.

I inherited the doodle bug from Mom and still idly draw on margins and scratch paper. Except at work. I’ve tried to stop doodling there after I once looked around a conference table and realized that no one besides me had drawn a single star, cat or leaf on their notepads.


fashion sketch

Stamp Ball Mystery

StampBallThe mystery is not what this is.
It’s a 600-pound ball of stamps that measures 32 inches in diameter.

Nor is the mystery the number of stamps in it.
Reportedly 4,655,000 in one solid — not hollow — ball. All cancelled.

The mystery is not its location.
It’s the centerpiece of the Leon Myers Stamp Center at Boys Town in Nebraska, the child care agency founded by Father Flanagan, whom Spencer Tracy personified in a 1938 film.

And there’s no mystery about who made it.
That would be the members of the Boys Town Stamp Collecting Club who began in 1953 and finished in 1955. Apparently, they had a lot of time for hobbies.

No, ultimately, the mystery for me is WHY they devoted two years to layering over four million stamps into Planet Postage. I guess it’s a more lasting result than if they had spent their time playing Parcheesi or Capture the Flag.

British Blue

_MG_7633oAs iconically English as double-decker buses, red pillar boxes have been repositories for British mail since 1852, a mere dozen years after the country introduced the penny post with penny stamps. Usually round, but sometimes octagonal or squared, many original post boxes are still in use across the British Isles. And strangely, some of them are blue.

That’s right: blue!

The advent of air travel in the early 20th century meant not only people could be transported faster, but also the mail (see my review of the film Only Angels Have Wings). But flying the post was more expensive than transporting sacks of mail by train or ship, so customers paid a premium price for the service.

Pillar_Boxes_WindsorTo separate the “high flying” letters from the more grounded masses, the British government began installing a new set of pillar boxes painted Royal Air Force blue in 1930. These collected letters until the outbreak of World War II suspended air mail. After the war, UK citizens could post their air mail letters anywhere, with the postage amount and blue stickers distinguishing air from surface mail.

A few blue pillar boxes still survive as remnants from an age when air travel seemed more special even for letters.

Ladies with Letters: The Mending

Eugen_von_Blaas_-_The_Love_Letter_1904The heaped basket says there’s work to be done, but who can think of mending when spring is in the air and someone has a love letter to share. That’s right, it’s another piece entitled The Love Letter, this one painted by Eugene von Blaas in 1904. An Italian painter born to Austrian parents, von Blaas made his home in Venice.

Unlike the wealthier subjects of most paintings that pose ladies with letters, these young women appear to be servants or members of a more modest household. I love how each woman reacts differently to the letter. The one on the left looks as if caught mid question—”So who is he, Maria? Has he kissed you yet?” The dark haired beauty in the yellow kerchief appears to hang on every word. Her companion raises one hand to her chin, eyes shyly downcast. Is the letter too steamy for her modest ears?

As for the young woman reading aloud, her red stockings and cheeky half smile depict a lively and engaging personality. Behind them, trees blossom in a cloud of pink and white.

Centuries may pass, but talking over boys with the girls never changes.

Cards with this image are available at the Post Whistle Shop on Zazzle.

Visit the Ladies with Letters pin board on Pinterest.