POSTCARD FROM EMILY
In a box of old papers in a second-hand store I found a postcard. No address, no date. It was short but poignant.
It read: “My Dearest Daddy I am having a lovely time at Grandmas. Gee but I wish you were with us and I miss you so. To-day I helped grandma in her shop and sold such a lot of sweets. To-day is mothers birthday so I bought a pretty compact for her. Well good bye. Emily.”
The postcard was a sepia city street scene, with ornate stone buildings, dated automobiles and buses, and a round-about centred by a raised concrete plinth complete with street lights and the de-rigour statues of recent British royalty. In the margin the card was titled ‘Colmore Row, Birmingham’.
The writer was away from home and missing her father. She was visiting her grandmother but somehow the tone of the letter did not suggest a holiday. The untold story of the card kept resonating in my head. So I decided to ask my Uncle Fred about it. Just on the off chance that he could throw any light on it, see things I had missed, know something about something…basically solve the mystery of Emily.
My uncle is a retired RCMP Inspector, but that does not nearly describe him. For years now he has been consulting on seemingly impossible cases, a kind of Sherlock Holmesian specialist, working from the scantest of clues he nets amazing results. Sometimes. As he reminded me, when I asked him about the letter on the back of the photograph.
After a welcoming hug, Uncle Fred ushers me into his study. A real study, with leather-covered furniture, warm amber lamps, and walls of books. Glasses half way down his rather patrician nose, he studies the postcard, first the photo side, then the written note.
“The vehicles date the photo from the late 1920s to the mid 1930s,” I say, proud of my research. “So is that when the letter was written?”
He looks at me, over his glasses. “Probably not.” Then he goes to a closed cupboard in the library shelves, opens it to reveal a fully stocked drinks cabinet, and asks “A bit of Scotch? It always helps me think.” I nod. He pours. “Anyway, it tastes good. Maybe the bit about thinking is only an excuse.”
Whiskey glasses in hand, we settle in.
“This would have been a quasi-historical photo when the card was sent. Just think about it. No one sends a postcard of the current traffic conditions in a city. No, you always pick an old scene, for its quaintness.” He peers closely at the photo. “And perhaps, sometimes, for its content.”
I nod my agreement. “So, can you date it?”
“Reasonably closely. But why the interest?” he asks, looking at me intently.
“Just something about the letter. I want to know about the writer, and her dad. I want to know the rest of the story.” I grin and shake my head. “Just plain nosiness, I guess. But if I can I want to trace them, find out what happened.”
“Okay,” says my uncle. “Here is what we have got. Emily was about ten, perhaps eleven when she wrote this. And until she went to ‘Grandma’s’, probably lived in British Columbia.”
Besides wanting to know about Emily, I also want to know how my uncle works.
“How do you know that?”
“The word ‘gee’. Only a North American would ever use that word. Her cursive forms are typical of the MacLean Method of Writing taught in every school in British Columbia from the 20’s to the early 70’s. The big wide ‘a’s and the curlicues on the capital ‘G’s are giveaways.”
He looks at the writing again. “But she was not a particularly talented calligrapher. Her other capitals are cramped, the bottom flourishes not well formed.” He pauses for a sip of Scotch. “She didn’t read much, so writing this would have been a chore. The two usually go together.”
“She didn’t place an apostrophe in ‘Grandmas’ or ‘mothers’ to indicate the possessive. And she placed a hyphen in today. Twice. Not a reader. But she was a loving child. You can see she added the words ‘and I miss you so’ after she had finished the letter. She crowded that in, because she very much wanted to say that. When she wrote this she had been in England for some time. She uses the word ‘sweets’ instead of candy.”
He pauses, and smiles at me. “That was all factual. Now, do you want the supposition?”
“Emily’s father was a Canadian soldier in World War II. Her mother was a war bride, a British girl. In the late 40’s they came to live in BC, and had Emily. But the mother missed England, and when Emily was ten or so she took the child and returned to Birmingham, or a nearby village. Emily wrote the letter on her mother’s birthday. She had probably dreamed, wished, prayed perhaps, that her father would magically appear that day. When he didn’t she wrote the letter. Emily was hoping her father would come to take them home, but by then her mother was looking for a new man.”
I look skeptical. Uncle Fred shrugs. “The reference to a pretty compact.”
I knock back my Scotch. “Anything else?”
“Sure. ‘Daddy’ worked for the Canadian Pacific Railway.”
“How could you possibly know he worked for the CPR? What have I missed?”
“The photo is kind of ugly. Right? Most little girls would pick postcards of birds or flowers. This card, a street scene, from the past, is…well, weird. But in the background, on the first floor of the large commercial building, you can just make out the names of the businesses. On the storefront next to the ‘Blue Star Line’, clear as a bell is ‘Canadian Pacific’. No, her Daddy worked for Canadian Pacific. And, in this small way she was letting him know how important he was to her, how she loved him, everything about him.”
I am stunned by what my uncle has seen, and what I have missed.
He goes on. “But now you can trace Emily. The CPR kept records of their employees, their spouses and their children’s birthdays, always sent cards. Kind of a feel good thing that got dropped when patriarchy began to be frowned on and unions took its place. Emily was born between 1948 and say…1955. Shouldn’t be too many Emilys in that time frame.”
Then Uncle Fred says sadly. “She really missed him. God only knows how long it took her to find this particular post card.”
Please note Jessica is a Fiction writer