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Four Decades Later, a Piece of Family History Finds Its Way Home

A chance posting on New Canaan Patch led Alexandra Bongaerts to reclaim a postcard depicting Elm Street that her mother had sent to friends in California nearly 40 years ago.

 

This might be the most meaningful $6.86 that Alexandra Bongaerts ever spent.

That’s how much the former New Canaan resident paid through eBay for a postcard that she intends to deliver to her own mother as part of a 91st birthday surprise in California later this month.

It’s not your average piece of cardboard. Sent nearly four decades ago (June 1974) and long forgotten, the postcard was inscribed and mailed by Bongaerts own mother, Barbara DuVal Spaulding, while visiting another daughter in the family back East about four years after part of the family had moved to Santa Barbara.

Bongaerts discovered the postcard’s existence on Saturday while reading this otherwise innocent post right here on New Canaan Patch (see comments thread).

“Why was it saved?” said Bongaerts, former owner of Bon Fleur flower shop in town, whose own children both graduated New Canaan High School (Flip in 2005 and Nikki in 2007). “That’s the freakiest thing to me: Who would save a postcard? I get a postcard and I might read it but I think I’d throw it away.”

Bongaerts, who now lives in Santa Barbara but gets the New Canaan Patch daily newsletter said her curiosity was piqued Saturday when she saw an item that had an old photo of Elm Street.

“I notice the name Barbara in the little preview,” she recalled. “And I guess that promoted me to read and I saw ‘Cookie’ and I was like, ‘Hmm, Cookie and Barbara.’ And then I saw the postcard itself and said, ‘That’s my mothers handwriting.’ And I know the people she wrote it to. How is it still in existence?”

The postcard’s seller—who appears to be in the postcard dealing business, from his eBay profile—could not immediately be reached for comment.

Luckily, Barbara DuVal Spaulding could.

Though she doesn’t know it—and Bongaerts assures us that her mother doesn’t go online and so she won’t read this article—Spaulding will receive as a gift later this month for her 91st birthday the very same postcard she sent long ago that her daughter purchased.

Asked about the postcard’s resurfacing during a telephone interview, Spaulding said, “It’s the funniest thing in the world. I can’t believe it. The strangest thing is that those people [the addressees] have been dead 25 years.”

Here’s what Spaulding wrote on it (the postcard, screen grabs of which are attached, is stamped June 22, 1974):

“Hi—Had forgotten how humid the East is! Having a thunderstorm at the moment, which might help clear it up. Everything does look green & beautiful, & the laurel is all in full bloom. Cookie’s vegetable garden is full of peas, lettuce, beets etc., which we are eating constantly. Will call you Fri PM when we get home with Rudi—can’t wait! Miss our tennis! Best to you both — Barbara”

Asked whether she still plays tennis, Spaulding said, “Not anymore. I’m 90 years old.”

A Brooklyn, NY, native whose grandparents built a house at what is now designated as 300 Hollow Tree Ridge Road in Darien—built it specifically for Spaulding’s own parents (“I love that house,” Spaulding said), and the family moved in when she was four—the California transplant said lower Fairfield County has changed a good deal since her youth.

“It was much less crowded then,” she recalled. “It’s more suburban now.”

Bongaerts, whose father Philip DuVal still lives here in town and who herself attended West School and then New Canaan Country School (as did her mother), said she still can’t believe that the postcard somehow found its way back to the family.

“It’s so random and what are the chances that, number one, the postcard would be saved?” she said. “Number two, that it would get on eBay? Number three, that you would post it? And number four, that I would read it?”

Asked what it means to her to have the postcard returned to her mother and family after so long, Bongaerts said, “It’s owning, physically, a piece of history and a moment in time.”

“You feel like it must be happening for a reason,” she added. “I sort of believe in coincidence and sort of believe in fate. And I guess I was meant to click on that article and read it and give this to my mom 40 years later.”

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