When I was about eleven years old, in Mrs. Morgan’s class, I had to pick a place to do a social studies report on. Part of that involved requesting travel guides from the place we selected. I picked the United States Virgin Islands (I was obsessed with beach life at the time).
In class we worked on our letter (the days of snail mail) and send it off. The letter explained that we were doing a report and would love if they could send us free travel information so we could cut out pictures and learn about the life there.
You would not believe the look on my face and my surprise when the U.S. Virgin Islands actually mailed me back a whole fat envelope with a letter personalized to me! (I have always and still do love getting mail, today, at 37, I still think…Is that the mailman? Did the mailman come yet? I wonder if there is anything good in there? I even love junk mail!)
Okay, so back to my childhood. I was so impressed by the fact that if you asked for something from a state they would send you a jumbo envelope full of stuff. Part of what impressed me the most was that is was not just some simple little white envelope, but an envelope that required more than one stamp!! (Even now, writing this, I’m excited thinking back on it!!!!)
So what did an eleven year old girl spend her weekend doing? Well, computers and the internet were not a thing then. The information to request travel guides was in two places. The back of non-fiction library books in the geography section or my father’s AAA tourism books. If you think I was excited about writing letters to request these things, wait until I found out that I could go with my father to AAA and request a map and travel book from any place I wanted, for free (I didn’t have to use my allowance!) Imagine a little girl asking her father when he is going to AAA and can I please add some states to your list?! My book shelf soon filled with chubby little AAA books, Montana, Wyoming, Florida, California, etc. Next to those were the road maps.
Those AAA books kept me occupied while I waited the 4-6 weeks for my envelopes to arrive in the mail. Now I must report that I lied in every letter I wrote to the different states. I figured without a good excuse they would not mail me anything. So, in each letter I told them I was doing a report for school and would love if they could mail me a travel guide and map.
Most places were nice enough to send me stuff, some never sent anything (I know, I kept a check list), some sent a postcard back saying if I sent money they would send it (nope, sorry I need my allowance). Yet, none were as stuffed full as the U.S. Virgin Islands. (I thought that maybe word got out through the travel places and that I could not possibly have this many reports for school and thus why some places never sent me anything).
Why am I rambling on about all this??? Well, I still love sending away for free travel guides. As a child I loved to dream about the places I would travel within the United States once I was old enough. (Although I did get to pick a few places for the father-daughter road trips). As I got older I used the travel guides to pin-point where I wanted to live, because I was determined NOT to stay in Washington. And now, I use them to help my writing. To get some “place” to my stories. For now, I can go anywhere for free in my stories. And until I can actually go there, I will at least make my stories as authentic as possible.
Excuse me, I think I just heard the mailman!