Postcards: Karen Arnold @ publicdomainpictures.net
I had purchased this old antique jewelry box I purchased for practically pennies at a rummage sale. One of those rosewood ones with red velvet lining and shell floral inlays this wasn’t some mass produced one you’ll find in Chinese flea markets, or at least from my investigations it seemed that way. I’d been cleaning it when I found a false door filled with these beautifully illustrated and yellowed postcards. The ink was somewhat worn, a couple of them were rife with fold and dog ears, as if carried around or handled quiet often. Most of it is written in very small script, and I strained my eyes many times and poured over the missives with a magnifying glass, trying to absorb the story they told.
From what I gather, the tale is about Camille Laurent and Timothy Gilroy, a long distance relationship that spanned the Atlantic that existed about a hundred years ago, judging from the dates on the card. Camille and Timothy met while Timothy was in Paris, they allude to that at times, but I don’t know the true circumstances. But I suspect it might have to do with work more than leisure.
Sometime in 1913-1914, Timothy left for America, to settle in New York and make his fortune. He must have had it hard, as there were several address changes. Some allude to him being a dockworker, another time working with a butcher, and the janitors of serval Irish frequented pubs.
The hours are long, and every day I collapse into my bed with another ache. I reread your words and long for the next postcard. It is the post that keeps me going, another step until we are together again.
Camille, a hotel maid in Paris strives to work as hard with hopes of a reunification in America. But even she has had her own hardships as a working class woman, and the eldest of a family of daughters.
My Dear Heart,
I am trying to save every penny that I can. But it seems as I try misfortune comes alone and takes it. Lilly has grown so much; I had to give mother part of my wages just to clothe her. I was blamed for some missing linens and had my pay docked. Anna has been sick for long; I fear the manager will fire her. Yet I hope so in the hopes of getting her shifts. I feel terrible for that thought and pray you will not think ill of me…
And soon, the Great War would loom over Paris and the rest of Europe for years. Camille has worked her way up the chain to one of the head maids, tolerates the rationing and the air of city under siege. As her home city is bombarded, she contemplates trying to escape, but loves her family to much to abandon them.
I cannot bear to leave Mama and Papa, or Lilly, Alice, and Helene. I do not want to leave fearing I will never see my family again. I love you, Dear Heart, but I also adore my family to. I promise on everything I have, with all the love in my heart that I will be with you in New York. When the war is over, I will be yours, and we will finally have that wedding luncheon in Central Park, by the lake you have grown to love as much as me.
Timothy is surprisingly understanding and supportive.
We have waited this long, I can wait a little longer. There is talk of a draft, that we might go to war in Europe. Many people are against it, and I am not sure how I feel. Being here in America, it feels safe, but my family where I grew up is being torn apart from this war.
Ma wrote to me. Got a letter saying Thomas was killed in the trenches. I cannot stop thinking about him Millie. Prayed for him and Ma—and you. They always say, “God has a plan” for us, but I have no clue what plan out there means taking Tommy from us.
Please be safe, I do not know what I would do if I lost you Millie.
Timothy’s frustration at the United States’ noninterference grows after his brother’s death, making his words frustrated and conflicted, in between missives of love. His belief makes him slightly unpopular in the community. Camille’s letters seem a little self-censored at times, as if to keep Timothy from getting upset, or to protect her. By 1917, The United States conscripts men into the army. Timothy is one of the many who had been ready and willing to serve. He glibly writes:
Who knows, maybe I will be stationed in France?
At this point, the cards lose frequency, for an understandable reason. Though it would seem they did meet up, hinted from one of Timothy’s cards:
Doc has my back. I have only a few days to visit and come back. I know it is not the park lunch wedding we dreamed of Millie, but we are going to finally be together.
The writing seems to renew with fervor after their clandestine (from what I get from Timothy and Camille’s cryptic writings about it) marriage, so far as it was possible. In Early 1918, things stop abruptly. The last card is from Timothy. It says.
It is like being back in the shipyards. I love you Millie, and give my love to little Tommy. Please write back.
After reading this all, I decided to try my hand on piecing together the information from the internet and what I could get here in New York. Timothy, like his brother, died in the trenches sometime in 1918. He married Camille and shortly had a son named Thomas. I couldn’t get any clear details on whether or not Camille stayed in France and visited her son when he immigrated, or immigrated with her son to America. Or how the jewelry box found its way into a rummage sale. But maybe they’re mysteries, a story to uncover for another day?
— — — — — — — — — —
I wasn’t sure what to do this week, and was kind of frustrated and at a wall. So I thought I’d go back to an old writing exercise, where you find pictures and write a story about it or what’s behind it– anything. The whole point is to write. I came across these faux French stock postcards and thought– why not write a story about a person who finds these really old postcards? And there we go. It was going to be a little more earlier, and maybe Timothy leave Camille in France or vice versa for the tragedy, but decided on the whole World War I aspect. I only know it from perspective of the royal families during it through documentaries, and through the eyes of soldiers from Blackadder Goes Fourth, albeit exaggerated just a little for humor, but nonetheless ended it on a somber point. I did a lot of googling as I wrote this, obviously this is more of an exercise and things may be inaccurate, but if this was a novel of course there would be in depth research.