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The Postcard

A missive 20 years delayed sent me into my future

     What is a miracle? Some may say it is the touch of a loved one, reaching deep into one’s heart to caress the soul. Others may say it is the vast mystery of the world, laying softly on the hills and whispering through grass and leaves.
     To me, a miracle is a postcard.
     The day was November 23, 2014. I had just come home for Thanksgiving break. My mother went to check the mail and came back in with a postcard. The card, slightly yellowed, was addressed to Mr. and Mrs. Brian Jablon — my parents — and was signed, Love, Dad.
     The card was from my grandfather, Kenneth Jablon, who had passed away two months before.
     When my grandfather died, my family was devastated. But at 77 years old, he had lived a long and full life.
     I recall my grandfather waking up early to fix breakfast, strolling around in his bathrobe as he hummed French and Italian classical ballads. 
     A connoisseur of life, he savored everything — from food and music (always classical or opera and almost never English), to literature and, most notably, languages, having devoted most of his life to teaching Spanish and Italian as a professor at Frostburg University.
     His professorship brought him places I’ve so far only dreamt. A Fulbright in Spain — where my dad, at five years old, went to a strict Catholic school despite his 100 percent Jewish roots. Countries all over Europe and South America. My grandfather could attest that Colombia did, in fact, have the best coffee.
     Among those places traveled was a city called Cuenca, in Ecuador. My grandfather went there to teach workshops in the mid-’90s. As my grandmother, his wife, confirmed, he hadn’t been to the city since that time.
     But why, then, was the postcard that arrived on our doorstep, months after my grandfather had passed, from Cuenca?
     The card wasn’t dated with a year, and the address was incomplete. As my mother said, “somehow, in the microcosm of time and a flawed postal service, a postcard stamped and postmarked in Ecuador arrived nearly 20 years late.”
     The timing could not have been more poignant. Just before Thanksgiving, my family was especially woeful, for Thanksgiving was, to us, my grandfather’s holiday.
     Year after year, we went to his house in the hills of Frostburg and sat around the dining room table as he carved the turkey and presented the pies he had made.
     This would be the first year without him, we thought. Not so. The arrival of the postcard made one thing clear: My grandfather was still with us.
     He was, as he said in the card, “in a different world.” He was “busy teaching and participating in different events,” as he always liked to do. He hoped we were fine, and he sent us his love.
     Now, several years later, the story is still incomplete. I have decided to follow the postcard, and in September, I will be boarding a plane to go to Cuenca for a nine month stay, to teach English.
     It’s hard to say what I hope to find while I’m there. A piece of my grandfather, who left us far earlier than any of us would have wished. A piece of his wanderlust — my attempt to live life to the fullest, as he had done.
     Or a piece of his heaven, here on earth.
The postcard:
Arrived in Cuenca last Fri. after a night in Quito (didn’t see much there). Cuenca is a hustling-bustling city, narrow cobblestoned streets, many small businesses, good shopping, lots of people, and many restaurants. Divided by the Tomebamba River, the city contains poorer and more affluent sections, but no obvious slums. Many houses on the outside look worn, unkempt, etc. but inside is a different world.
I am busy teaching and participating in different events. Hope all is fine there. Love, Dad.

I had the pleasure of studying abroad in Cuenca while at FSU with Dr.O'Brien. Dr.Jablon was one of my favorite professors. I teach Spanish to this day! Have a wonderful trip, I know you'll love Ecuador! Jennifer

Beautiful article. Thanks for sharing.
I am from Cuenca. I left Cuenca in 1993 and have lived in the U.S. ever since. Throughout these years I have visited my family in Cuenca and surrounding towns almost every year. This year my 12 year old son spent his summer in Cuenca attending summer camp there. He loved it!
Cuenca has expanded significantly in the last 20+ years. Whereas 20 years ago it was hard to find foreigners in Cuenca, today you can find people from all over Europe and from the U.S. almost at any corner of the historic district (old Cuenca). In fact, now there is a large community of U.S. and European retirees living in Cuenca.
Although Cuenca has been changed (modernized) by this influx of foreigners, Cuenca has maintained its Spanish colonial charm. Cuenca's people are the best attraction for any tourist or expat due to their welcoming smiles and kindness to visitors. I am sure you will have a lovely time in Cuenca, as your father had.