Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Postcards from 1944 New Orleans

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"My Dear," my uncle wrote in 1944, "The little man has had a very full day, and is now having his demitasse at Broussard’s, an old restaurant in the French Quarter. Shrimp remoulade, soup, plus a few other items. Friday night I have a reception at Antoines, supposed to be something in the food and atmosphere line. Pretty soft, isn’t it?"

This was the message on one of the 6 postcards my uncle sent from New Orleans. I'm not sure what he was doing there in 1944, but it probably had to do with WWII. The cards, marked with a "Red Cross War Fund" stamp, are addressed to my aunt in Houston. They had moved to Houston from St. Louis because Uncle E. wanted to do work that supported the war effort. This followed a devastating rejection when he tried to join the military, one final insult from a bout of TB he suffered as a young man. I remember my aunt telling me how they had to save all of their gas rationing coupons so they could drive their car from St. Louis to Houston. So, when I read my uncle's comment about the"soft" time he's having, I detect mixed emotions: pleasure at indulging in some hard-to-find luxuries during a time of rationing, mingled with a sense of guilt at not being in the trenches like other men his age.

That's one of the things I love about these cards: the intriguing hints of untold tales. I also love how they reflect my uncle's dry, Noel Cowardish wit, how his voice sparkles and smiles through his brief words.
Here's another example:

Darling: This town is not so fun as the articles in Colliers and others would have you think, but undoubtably much more so than in the recent past. Plenty of gambling, but the lid is fairly well on so far as [illegible]. The place fairly abounds in night clubs and joints of every description. Maybe whiskey isn’t flowing freely, but most other kinds of giggle or weeping water are.

Uncle Edmond, I should add, was a teetotaler, having given up alcohol a few years before. Again, while the words are mere ripples, dashed off in a hurry, they offer intriguing hints of a deeper back-story whose details I will never know.


  1. Your post brings back a lot of memories. I lived in New Orleans for a year. I loved it, studied it's history, wrote about it and one of the 8 books I've written took place there. I loved the history, the mixed races all of the things that made it unlike any other town in the US. Great post! Thanks for the memories!

  2. Wow, your blog is full of fascinating stories, including your "cast of characters". Great elements for a book or movie.

  3. Sylvia--Wow! 8 books...do you have links to them or talk about them at all on your site? I don't know New Orleans at all, other than from books...do you know Kate Chopin's The Awakening?

    Tina--you don't know how much your comment means to me. I'm writing a memoir right now...my idea, which inspired this blog, is a memoir told through objects. But there's at least one novel in some of my older relatives' stories. I'm percolating one or two. If only I didn't have to work fulltime to make a living! It sure gets in the way of writing.

    Sujatha--thank you!

  4. So wonderful that you still have these old cards! Sometimes I see cards like these on sale at flea markets, piles of them thrown in some box - and they look quite sad - and, yes, enticing through their untold stories.

  5. Manuela--it is sad to see cards at garage sales. I feel the same way about old family photos...especially those sepia tone ones that look sad to start with.