A French tourist in Lebanon, Kansas?

Today’s post is a short one. I want to share an enigmatic postcard that I found among my grandfather Vernon C. Black’s childhood memories. The postcard itself is a charming artifact, but it presents so little information that I may never be able to resolve most of the questions I have about it.

In September 1932, when he was 15 years old and had just graduated from the eighth grade, Vernon received a postcard from Bruz, a small town in southeastern Brittany, France. The postcard appears to have been sent by a Monsieur Rivière, but it is just signed “M. Rivière,” so might be from a man or a woman whose name starts with an “M”. The postcard is written in French by a person whose handwriting indicates s/he was educated in Europe.

The way in which M. Rivière wrote the numbers 1, 7, and 9 in the date on the postcard indicates that s/he received a European education. The slashed 7 in particular is strongly indicative of this person having learned to write in France.

I feel I can rule out this being a school pen pal on the basis of there being none of the “what life is like where I live” information that is the whole point of scholastic pen pals.

The note—”Meilleur souvenir de vacation”—is in French and translates to “best memory of vacation.” But whose vacation? I think we can safely rule out Vernon having visited France when he was 15 years old (his family was far too poor for a transatlantic vacation, and I’ve found no evidence in his copious writings of such a grand vacation), so it was clearly M. Rivière who was on vacation.

But where was M. Rivière vacationing? Was M. Rivière a French person who somehow ended up in Lebanon, Kansas, on vacation? This seems rather unlikely unless he was driving across the United States. Was M. Rivière vacationing elsewhere in the U.S. where Vernon also happened to be vacationing? This seems plausible. I don’t know of any non-family-visiting vacations that Vernon took with his family, but I know that he travelled at least once across state lines with a friend to see a Wild West show. Perhaps Vernon met M. Rivière at such a show or fair that they both attended?

Given the brevity of the message and the lack of any personal thoughts, this postcard seems to have been written simply to honor a promise to send a postcard. My guess would be that Vernon met M. Rivière at a fair or show. Vernon was an outgoing and personable boy who appears to have been fascinated with life outside of Kansas. He may have also been dabbling with being a stamp collector (judging by the number of postcards and envelopes he saved as a child that appear to have no value or meaning beyond the affixed stamp). I can imagine Vernon being fascinated with M. Rivière and talking with him and then giving M. Rivière his address and asking him/her to send Vernon a postcard when he got home.

If you have any thoughts on this post, please let me know in the comments below.

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