Mary Steinbicker has always loved postcards.
In lieu of wedding gifts, the Minnetonka resident asked all her guests to send her postcards of their favorite places. Whenever she travels she collects them, and one of her favorite pastimes is sorting through postcard racks at her local drug store.
So when Steinbicker wanted to make a New Year's resolution last year, it made sense to incorporate postcards in some way.
She couldn't have predicted just how meaningful and welcome that decision would be. For every day of 2020, Steinbicker sent a postcard to someone. Most of her 366 recipients were friends or neighbors but others were people she barely knew or had never met.
She mailed postcards to musicians in the Minnesota Orchestra, to Gov. Tim Walz when he was in quarantine (for the first time) and to all elected officials in Minnetonka. Steinbicker even sent a card to Laurie Hertzel, the senior editor for books at the Star Tribune, after Hertzel asked in one of her columns if anyone still writes letters anymore.
Each postcard she sent began the same way — a greeting and a disclaimer that despite the picturesque photo on the back, Steinbicker was, like everyone else, adjusting to the realities of COVID-19 and was, in fact, in Minnesota and not traveling the world. Still, she checked in, wished people a happy birthday told them she'd be thinking of them throughout the year.
The postcard project was so well-received that she's continued it into 2021, although not every day.
"[This project] is just a little different way to let people know there's somebody out there," Steinbicker said. "We've been so isolated, we haven't been able to see each other but, hey, the Postal Service still works. I'm still thinking about you. So I hope people can rejoice a little bit in that."
Bringing back the joy of mail
Receiving letters or postcards is often a rarity today, especially for younger people who grew up in the internet age, she said. For those who still get mail, their mailbox is often full of bills or advertisements. Because of this, Steinbicker said mail gets a bad rap.
"You should be excited when the mail comes," she said.
Compared to letter-writing, texts or e-mails, there's something deeply personal about the medium of a postcard, she said. Writing them has become a way of honoring the people she knows and cares about.
"I think people are a little bit intimidated by writing a letter. All that white paper, oh my god, it just freaks people out," Steinbicker said. "That idea of slowing down, giving it a little bit more effort, being a little bit more deliberate about it … that's a good way of letting our mind look and think of things differently."
A gesture of love
Lincoln Myles, 9, received Mary's first postcard in her project last year. A fourth-grader from Brooklyn Center, his mother, Susan Myles, worked with Steinbicker for over 10 years in the Hennepin County Library system. She said Steinbicker always goes out of her way to send Lincoln postcards, especially those related to Abraham Lincoln.
Over time, Steinbicker has been able to help Lincoln learn cursive with her cards, a handwriting style that is no longer taught in many Minnesota elementary schools, Myles said.
"The project is awesome. I think that it is so Mary, it speaks to who she is," Myles said. "And I really appreciate that she remembers [Lincoln]. Even though she's retired now, she still always makes sure to send a postcard if she's out and about."
Linden Hills resident Kay Christianson has known Steinbicker for a little over a decade. She was the recipient of Steinbicker's 174th postcard last year, and her husband received number 198.
"When you get a postcard in the mail, it's the first thing I look at because there's some adventure or story of some kind that's greeting you," Christianson said. "Usually it's someone who's traveling, but in this case it wasn't, so there was another story to be told."
Inspired by Steinbicker's gesture, Christianson said she began sending weekly mail to her aunt, who recently transferred to a nursing home in Wisconsin and has been unable to have visitors.
Because her aunt has problems with her memory, Christianson said she'll call her regularly to talk and make sure she got her card. Even if her aunt may not remember receiving it when they chat, knowing there's a moment of joy in her day when she finds the letter makes it all worthwhile.
The power of a postcard
Despite some mail disruptions due to the pandemic, people aren't letting their love of letter writing dwindle. The international Postcrossing Project connects people from around the world through the medium of postcards. Currently, the organization has over 800,000 participants in 207 countries, and 1,574 registered accounts from Minnesota. Although the organization saw a dip in participation last April, interest is coming back as international mail routes open up again, said director Paulo Magalhães.
Others in Minnesota have taken to writing letters to seniors who remain isolated in the pandemic, to incarcerated people around the state, or to those simply looking to find love or friendship in a pen pal.
Although it's getting harder to find postcards for sale, Steinbicker said she'll frequent bookstores, museums and hotel lobbies for cards, and even knows of a local drugstore that sells them for 25 cents each.
Even something as small as a postcard can have a tremendous impact. When she writes a card, she's thinking of the person she's writing to. And when they receive it, she's hoping they're thinking of her, too.
"How do we maintain a relationship when we're not together? How do we maintain the sense of community when you're afraid to walk up to somebody?" she said.
"I'd like to think I did a little bit in maintaining those connections, so that people wouldn't feel so isolated. It certainly made me not feel so isolated."
Becca Most is a Twin Cities freelance writer.