On 7 December 2006, the informative and engaging blog Steamboats Are Ruining Everything posted on scholarly journal offprints and stamps. I recently read the post in a book version of the blog titled The Wreck of the Henry Clay: Posts and Essays, 2003-2009, published by the blog’s author, Caleb Crain, and which I recently purchased at Lulu (now a regular reader of the blog, I didn’t discover it until sometime in 2007). Part of Caleb’s 2006 post reminded me of my own stamp collection, which I had not looked at in some time.
I am not a philatelist. I saved the stamps more than collected them; they were given to me, each a small gift, by my students at the time, English as a foreign language students in the late 1970s and early 1980s. The saving of stamps began when a couple of students asked me to help them with translations of letters – they wanted to reply in English, or to gain more English by translating letters from home into English – and I commented on the stamps I was seeing. A rumor seemed to circulate that I collected stamps, and before long indeed I did, my students, for the most part dispossessed, disarrayed, and sometimes disappeared, happy for an opportunity to easily give their teacher something in return (though what I gained from my students, stamps or no, was more than anything I gave to them).
A number of my stamps are from Iran around the time of the fall of the Shah, and several were given me by Zahra, an Iranian doctor who stayed briefly in the US after one of her sons was killed in the revolution. When I first met her, another of her sons introducing us, she reached out, looking deeply into my eyes, and held my face in her hands, to her son’s embarrassment, though I did not mind, and she said that I looked like and reminded her of her lost son. Later I learned that she had spent days looking for him, wandering around Tehran, searching through stacks of body bags in freezers. Zahra returned to Iran and wrote to me of the war on the Iraq front, where she had gone to doctor the injured. She talked of the age of the soldiers, the waves of certain casualties as the boys ran hopelessly across the desert battlefield (but I can’t find this letter; it’s possible my memory fails here, and that this impression is from another Iranian student from whom I probably asked for news of Zahra).
But I have other letters from Zahra. In one, she wrote that rumors of shortages were unfounded. In February of 1981, she wrote: “Joe I didn’t write letter as an american or an iranian this is an outlaw letter, it is just as I feel like to write….” She asked that I “please write me letter in print with typewriter.” I grew reticent though, fearful the letters might put her at some kind of risk, and our correspondence ended. Her last letter to me closed with “…I miss you and I am looking forward to have letter from you and hear some thing about you.” She had written, “I think the people of Iran are big they’r tolerant and patient people. They can get along with all situation NO NO Joe all people are the same and all are in situation as iranian.” (I have copied from Zahra’s letters exactly as she wrote them, though she always asked me to send them back to her with corrections.)
Now of course, the revolution, a dormant volcano, erupts again, but Twitter and other e-tools may make stamps and letters, like Caleb’s offprints, obsolete.