There are those of you who are not going to understand a word of this column, But stick with me: I’ll explain.
Once upon a time, younglings, we did not have the electronic communications devices of today. There were no computers, so email, texting, tweeting, social media sites, and all that was…no, wait. I heard that, you in the back with the curly hair. (At least you’ve been eating your breadcrusts.) “They still had phones.” Yes, we DID have telephone communication. But I warned you that this was in pioneer days. Our phones DID NOT HAVE SCREEM\NS. All we could do was talk into them. And during the golden age of postcards, a telephone was still, in many parts of this country, considered a luxury. It was expensive, and it was available only in those parts of the country which had been wired. Yes, if you’ve looked at that landline phone your grandmother still keeps attached to the wall for emergencies, you have seen a few of these wires. We did not even have WiFi in them days. And because phone systems were rather rough and ready even in most places which had been wired, we had something called a party line, which meant phone calls were not especially private.
“Private”? I can try to explain that in a whole nother blog.
So for news from people you couldn’t talk to face-to-face, the best option was to write a letter. Postcards were nice, but rather like tweets or calls on a party line: not private. So in the days before there were other possibilities, a MAJOR genre of postcard was the “Write Me a Letter” variety. And whilst travelling through my postcards on the way to those with verse, I found a lot of these rhymes dealt with that heartfelt plea.
Another blog I’ll write someday, when I’m feeling braver, is the whole ethnic mockery postcard. There’s a nice series of cards by Frederick Cavally in which he had the face of a member of an ethnic group demanding, with an accent, why you hadn’t written. He would do a man from that group on one card and a woman on another, so he could use the accent twice. These are not in verse, so they’ll wait for that brave blog I’ll write one day.
Ethnic mockery was toned down as the twentieth century went on, but it was still going strong when, in the 1930s, possibly in response to popular novels, a whole new ethnic group sprang into view and Hillbilly Humor took the nation by storm. Numerous artists took it up, including artist Luther Landis Irby, who is responsible for the card at the top of this column as well as dozens of others. Many of these, like the following, took up the age-old question of wondering why you were taking so long to write.
The nagging was generally heavily loaded with affection: why would I want a letter so badly if I didn’t care? So some of the verses are almost indistinguishable from Valentines.
Other artists took their cue from nursery rhymes for their combination of longing and demand. (This is illustrator Mabel Wright Enright putting Little Jack Horner to work. Did he EVER stand up?)
Of course, SOME artists leaned a little bit more on the demanding part of the equation. This is Frederick Cavally, mentioned hereintofore, sarcastically assuming you’re pretending to be at work.
Though he was more comfortable drawing faces. (I’m not sure which is more annoying here: the face or the verse, but I think he did both of them.)
And as long as we’re saluting artists by name, here is Mr. Irby again, with the only verse which addresses, via Hillbilly Humor, one of the few downsides of getting a letter.