Postcards from the edge of time
Postcards used to be a thing.
Souvenir shops had racks and racks of canned images depicting local color and attractions. They required cheap postage and thrifty words. Both of my parents were big fans of postcards.
Dad’s art deco handwriting and my Mother’s cursive lean are unmistakable to me. My daughter said she couldn’t read it but I know their handwriting on sight.
I’m sure it was my father who bought these postcards that show Seattle and Denver. I think the postcard obsession really started with him. I know he loved Denver but tolerated Seattle but in the end he asked to be buried in Washington because the ground in Colorado was too cold.
The picture to the left shows Denver looking towards the northwest. It’s all green and unplanned. Now it’s not green and overplanned. This was a bit of a smoggy day because the mountains aren’t clearly visible. The bottom of the postcard shows the fringes of Civic Center Park and a tree-lined Colfax Avenue. Sixteenth Street is a one-way street once very popular with cruisers in the sixties, seventies and eighties.
Many of my meter-reading stories center around this area of Denver. Downtown was a Cycle 20 and despite the facade of downtown chic, the basements and sub-basements of Denver held dusty secrets and slick-winged cockroaches. In this vintage postcard most of the city buildings had deco-tiled stairways leading up to offices and down to storerooms. The closer to the steam boilers, the closer to the heat. Above, sun warmed the buildings, below steam boilers kept the rats warm.
Civic Center Park at the bottom left is an oasis of colorful gardens and now it’s closed due to the homeless that Denver can’t figure out how to help.
This was the Denver my parents caroused around at the beginning of World War II. Men in uniform and smartly dressed women shopped at the Denver Dry Goods, May D&F, Florsheim, Steins and ate at Woolworth’s lunch counter. They went to shows at the Paramount and ate the D&F Tea Room. My father was handsome in his uniform and my mother was a fashion plate. They fell in love and got married at the clerk’s office in Edgewater, across street from the Edgewater Inn where they celebrated their marriage with a round of beers. The Edgewater Inn is still standing, still seedy and my favorite is a Howdy and a Schooner. The Howdy is a greasy pizza with sausage and jalapeno peppers and the Schooner is the size of salad-bowl sized beer. We used to take the kids there after softball games and we watched Broncos football games and talked loudly because that’s required at a dive bar.
Red Rocks Amphitheater is a world-famous concert venue, workout space, hiking trails and natural wonder. The acoustics are world class and nature made. The stairs are trippy and wide. Easter sunrise services mean trekking through the dark to the walkways and seats from the 1920s. People tailgate before movies and concerts and endure hours-long wait to exit after a show. Events go on from March to November and Red Rocks is lit up in good weather and bad. But in the beginning it was just dirt and rocks. My parents would tell me it was a day trip to get out to Red Rocks and they picnicked out there after an hour and a half drive. I imagine my mother wore high heels.
The Lacey V. Murrow Bridge looks much different today. Back then it was just one bridge with a big bulge in the middle. The Bulge was part of a mechanism that allowed the bridge to open and close and allow boats to go through. Driving around The Bulge was a scary experience. The dark-stoned deco styling sloped upwards to the big opening in the bridge but the roadway curved around it. Drive fast and you won’t make the curve. When the bridge was updated, The Bulge was removed and drivers went down to the bridge anchors and found the remnants of three cars of missing people who drove too fast and went up and over the opening and down into the water. Chances are nobody saw them launch into The Bulge and they drowned without anyone knowing The Bulge was a graveyard.
We lived in Germany from 1964-1966 when my father was a quality control engineer for Boeing on loan to Messerschmidt. Dad’s German perfectionist nature made him a valuable asset for Messerschmidt and made their planes fly. We spent a lot of time touring Europe and one of my favorite places was King Ludwig’s castle, Linderhof.
My parents would turn me loose at Linderhof and I wandered around the palace grounds and took the tour of the palace countless times. This was my favorite palace, of all Ludwig’s castles: the Tea Room, the Main Bedroom, the Moroccan House and the Terrace Gardens. He was mad but he had good taste. The grounds weren’t overrun with tourists and it was clean and manicured. I imagine it’s a tourist trap now, crowded and everyone is taking pictures with their phones. Dad used an Ansco 35mm film camera and took many slides of the place. The slides can’t be viewed in a projector, the heat will melt them within seconds. So, the postcards are the only hard reminder of those trips.
The main streetcar station in Augsburg, Germany passes by the Bahnhof (train station) that took riders to Munich and all points west. Anna Strasse was right there to the right and it was a wonderland of small shops and a multitude of Kodak signs for film and processing. I still have a charm bracelet from a store on Anna Strasse and managed to keep it safe for all these years. My mother bought dirndls from a department store about two blocks away and the one my mother wore is about a size 4 in today’s sizes. The ones I wore disappeared when I moved out of my mom’s house. I wore them and my red hat with travel patches and pins on it. That I still have.
Even in 1960s Germany, their transportation system was a model for a major city. Walking paths and bike paths were side by side and you didn’t walk on the bike path and bikers didn’t ride on the walking path. The streetcar rail stops were frequent and had rain shelters. Shops were small and specialized and goods were carried in woven or knotted bags because there was no such thing as a paper bag or a plastic bag. Shopping didn’t take up a seat on the streetcar. Purchases sat on your lap. I remember one trip when I sat next to my dad and a large, very German hausfrau laden with woven bags picked me up by my collar and removed me from my seat. She wanted my seat. My dad grabbed me back and put me on his lap and shot her a crusty. I was confused.
I have about 100 postcards from all over the world. Arizona to Washington to Colorado to New Mexico to Munich and all of Europe. I wish I could ask my parents about some of the pictures. I’m not sure why mom bought 5 postcards of the same image and why so many of the postcards have witty sentiments and I don’t know most of the people whose addresses are inscribed on the back.
As a kid I really only remember certain place and feelings that came with being in places worthy of a postcard: the light in Italy, the creepiness of The Bulge, the polished wood on the Augsburg steetcars, the icy cold air of the Zugspitz and the wonder of Linderhof.