Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Inspiration from abroad

The outside of any mail I get from another country often makes me just as happy as the inside:

I love the relief effect here, don't you?

Yeah, okay, so I'm a recovering stamp collector. The mere idea of a bag of mixed stamps for $1 can still give me chills. Whenever I stumble across the Ziploc bag of bits left over from childhood, I can remember steaming stamp after stamp and meticulously peeling away pesky envelope or postcard backs. I can practically taste the glue on the little hinge papers you used then to fix the back of the stamp to the page of your stamp collecting book, too. I can still remember the book, come to that, though it's long since lost. It had a spiral binding and a blue card stock cover.

I was still collecting in 1976 when my oldest brother moved to China, and for my birthday one year he sent me a book with a brown silk cover that was embroidered with flowers. Inside, long rows of thin plastic pockets held stamps in place - no more glue, and you could rearrange your collection at will, making room as you needed it for more in a particular run you were building up.

But I didn't like to put my Canadian stamps into the book from China, where I kept the stamps from his letters, and the unmarked ones he bought for me and tucked into waxy clear pockets and blue air mail envelopes to send home. Those ones were painted with fine brushes in bright colours and showed men and women in pyjama-like costumes performing athletic feats, or people in shining uniforms, their faces upraised, or clean new trucks and trains. They seemed out of place next to the line drawings of Queen Elizabeth (priced both 10 cents and 12; were we too cheap to update the artwork when postage went up?)

Maybe it was stretching the collection across two books that killed my stamp-sorting obsession, but I kind of think it was Lego. That's what stamp-collection-aged kids do to fill non-soccer-playing or TV-watching time even now, isn't it? Lego and Pokemon and video games? It's gotta be hard to sell sitting over a steaming kettle to a kid with a video game controller in hand, no matter how cool the stamp or how far away it was made.


Binnie Brennan said...

What a beautiful story.

Kathleen Taylor said...

I have never collected stamps, but I can see how it could become obsessive. Do you still have your little book from China?