On January 31, 1995, I mailed a postcard to my father from Sydney, Australia. Kit and I were near the end of a month-long lecture cruise that had taken us across the Pacific by ship to Hawaii, Fiji, Samoa, New Zealand, up the east coast of Australia to Darwin where we left the ship that had been our home for weeks. After a visit to the Northern Territories, we returned to Sydney to begin our return home. We’d left Missouri in winter and ended up down under in the middle of Australia’s summer season.
Over the course of that month, we traveled halfway around the world, traveling from west to east through one time zone to another, including the International Date Line where not only the hour but the day changed as well. While traveling the vast expanse of the Pacific Ocean, days melted from one into the next. Life’s pace slowed down as the magic of the sea’s motion lulled us into a peaceful state of being. Gradually, the blues of sky and sea blended into one, and time seemed not to matter much at all.
While in Sydney, our first stop in Australia, I’d come across a vintage 1938 postcard depicting a traveler atop a camel in the Australian desert being passed by a speeding train bound for Perth. The caption read, “Travel by Australian Railway in comfort—save days—Across Australia.” I penned a message on the postcard and mailed it to my father who was tending our home, Breakfast Creek, while we were gone.
“Dear Dad,” I wrote, “It was wonderful talking to you this morning. Clear as a bell from this end of the world. I am dressed in summer whites and we have had a glorious couple of days walking in the breezy streets of this great city of Sydney. The Olympics are going to be splendid in this locale. Australia is excited about the event and banners already hang from lamp posts celebrating Sydney’s cultural events. Hope you enjoy this great old travel postcard. Imagine! Crossing the Australian desert by camel! See you in 10 days or so. Love, Cat.”
Four other postcards were mailed while we worked our way north by ship to Cairns, Darwin and the Aboriginal lands known as the New Territories, and that is where this tale takes a mysterious turn. One was addressed to my father c/o Salter at our Breakfast Creek address in Hartsburg, MO; the others were mailed to my parents at their address in San Antonio, TX. But as if delivered in a mailbag being transported by camel across the Australian desert, they disappeared for the next 24 years. By then both of my parents had crossed over into the next world where time and space know no boundaries.
Then a month ago, the five postcards mailed in 1995 were finally delivered—four to my parent’s address in San Antonio where my sister Kim now lives, and one to our mailbox at Boomerang Creek—even though it had been addressed to our former Breakfast Creek address where we have not lived since 2005. Oddly enough, the postcard card has no postal cancellation mark indicating a date or location from which it was mailed.
To add to the strangeness of this snail mail tale, I bumped into a neighbor, Shari Bullard, who pulled out her cellphone and showed me a picture of an old red mailbox with our Breakfast Creek name and address painted on the side. “It’s for sale at the J Street Vintage consignment shop in Jefferson City,” she told me. “I saw it there yesterday.” Of course, Kit and I immediately drove to the shop and learned this story from its owner, Lizzy Harlan. One of her vendors said it had been found in a muddy ditch before being sold at auction at our former home.
Our vintage Breakfast Creek mailbox now rests atop a walnut tree stump near our porch at Boomerang Creek. And should I ever open its rusty metal door and find another postcard mailed from Australia in 1995, I won’t be one bit surprised.
Cathy Salter is a geographer and columnist who lives with her husband, Kit, in Southern Boone County at a place they call Boomerang Creek.