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Pen Pals saved their postcards
JOHN GIBBS is a resident of Gays Mills, Wisconsin. He is an award-winning weekly columnist for the Crawford County Independent newspaper in Gays Mills, Wisconsin.

GAYS MILLS - Pete’s funeral was a big one. The bachelor farmer was a fixture in his rural community and an active member of the village he lived near.   He knew everyone and everyone knew him. There were two kinds of people for Pete, his friends and people he hadn’t met yet. And hundreds of those friends showed up at his visitation and funeral to say goodbye.

Pete was a throwback to an earlier time.  He still did things in a simple and  old-fashioned way on his farm. The farm was small and diversified and long ago paid for. He hadn’t caught Big Farm fever like so many had. His was a one-man and very sustainable operation. He was often seen  at the local café or barbershop. He went to a lot of farm auctions. He supported the school and was an avid local sports booster. His style of life enabled him to get out and socialize and that is what he loved to do.

At the visitation, as was the custom in the area, photos and mementoes of Pete’s life were displayed on tables and bulletin boards. The boards showed pictures of Pete’s school days, getting a booster award from the high school, and a few other pictures that people shared. But one bulletin board was entirely covered with picture postcards. The cards were from all over the United States and several were from foreign countries. That surprised a lot of people and they wondered how Pete happened to have all of those cards.

The question was answered at the funeral service the next day. A middle-aged man got up to speak. He looked vaguely familiar to many people but they couldn’t quite place him. 

“Hello, everyone,” he began. “My name is Jake and Pete was my uncle, my mom’s brother. I visited here a few times when I was in grade school and have always liked it here. Pete made me feel important by showing me things, explaining how his farm worked, and letting me help. He showed me how to drive his truck when I was 12. For a city boy growing up in a big city, that was a rare treat and the memories have stuck with me.

“As you probably know, Pete didn’t travel very far from home and I didn’t get back here after high school, college, and career came along. But when I was about 10, after one of my last visits here, Pete started sending me a postcard every week. They came every Wednesday, so I assume Pete mailed them on Monday morning. I came to look forward to those cards very much and they followed me to college and to the several jobs I’ve had since. I got his latest card just last week.

“The cards were simple and straightforward. They told about the weather, how the crops looked, getting a new batch of chicks started, an auction he attended and what he bought there. Some of them had sketches of something he was building or repairing. Those cards, and that connection with Pete, meant a lot to me and in my mind I traveled back to the farm every week when his card came.

“I started writing Pete a postcard every week when I was in eighth grade.  We became pen pals. I sought out picture postcards that I thought Pete would like and wrote about my life as he wrote about his. Those cards at the visitation were all from me. He must have saved them just like I saved his.”