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The True Value of the Cheap Postcard

Mark Ellwood explores the world for a living. And everywhere he goes, he sends a postcard to his three godchildren. It’s become a beloved tradition that has taught all four of them more about the world.

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Illustration: Franco Zacharzewski

Writing letters was a ritual drummed into me throughout childhood. Money, gifted for birthdays or Christmas, would be left on the piano, tantalizingly out of reach but within sight, until the last thank-you note was mailed. Birthday cards, dinner party thanks, thinking-of-yous—I still send them all by mail. As a child, I remember yearning to receive letters; mail was something seemingly only addressed to grown-ups, who’d grumble as they opened yet another bill. But when something arrived for me, I felt important— treated more as a person than just a kid.

It’s a feeling I wanted to pass along when a friend asked me to stand godparent to her first child, a boy who lived in rural England at the time. To nurture our relationship, I could write him letters from my home in New York, I reasoned, or better yet, send him postcards. I’m lucky to travel constantly for work, so this seemed a fitting personal gesture: unexpected but consistent, a surprise that would be waiting at home at the end of the school day.