THE DILETTANTE’S DEVOTIONAL
by Lise Funderburg
I stayed up ’til 1:00 AM a few weeks ago, and where was the party? At my desk, with everything but the keyboard covered in postage stamps. Polish stamps, Poczta Polska, all issued between 1928 and 1969. Musty old stamps honoring tanks and trade union congresses, marking six-year plans and newspaper tricentennials and the 1000-year anniversary of the country itself. Clumps of stamps memorializing uprisings in Silesia, the recovery of territories, and planes, lots of planes, carrying mail or flying over cities. New steelworks, new electric plants, well-muscled and barefoot coal miners, studious children, Curie and Kopernik and korfball, Chopin and Paderewski, Stalin and Hitler, zoo animals and butterflies. Not one stamp memorialized or honored or even acknowledged Catholicism.
I found them all in the basement of a house my stepson bought in a short sale. The stamps had moldered away for 30 unweatherproofed years, and in carting them home before the junk haulers came, my plan was to stumble upon a rarity, sell it on eBay, and become rich. Or at least get the driveway resurfaced. A toe—no, a toenail—dipped into the world of Philately indicated that my mound of Perf Lt Cancel Hinged Non-Overprint Singles were unlikely to yield much, if anything at all.In fact, not a stamp sold. The only expenditure was time I spent Googling, amassing fragments of world history and a working knowledge of who had hosted the Olympics over that 41-year span.
After fruitless relistings and price cuts, I’ve given up dreams of fortune, but the stamps (now carefully separated by theme into plastic sandwich bags) still clutter my office. I’m having trouble parting with them, just as the glimpses they gave into their collector’s life, long gone, and a world even longer gone, have lodged inextinguishable embers into my brain.
Lise Funderburg‘s latest book, Pig Candy: Taking My Father South, Taking My Father Home, is a contemplation of life, death, and barbecue, and it was chosen by Drexel University for its 2012 Freshman Writing Program Summer Read. Lise’s work has been published in The New York Times, TIME, The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Nation, MORE, Chattahoochee Review, Oprah Magazine, and Prevention. She teaches creative nonfiction at the University of Pennsylvania, Rutgers, and the Paris American Academy.
Photo credit: Mark O’Neil on Flickr