Better late than never, they say, and a recent Amateur Radio experience echoed that sentiment for me in a big, big way.
Many of us longtime hams experience ebbs and flow in our level of activity, and I’m no exception. Licensed in 1962, I was an impassioned 12-year old then who just couldn’t get enough of our wonderful hobby. Aside from school and sleep, my days and nights were filled to overflowing with Amateur Radio. I mean I was on the air every single day, usually for hours, and I made a lot of contacts. Not only domestic QSOs, mind you, but a ton of DX too. It seemed as though an envelope would arrive every few weeks from the ARRL DX QSL Bureau, jammed full of wonderful and exotic cards from locations most kids had never even heard of.
And this continued mostly unabated right up until the time I turned 14. That was the year a Honda 50 rolled into my life, along with the sublime discovery of girls, and Amateur Radio took a major back seat.
And there were other times along the way during which Amateur Radio resumed its leadership role in my life. Throughout college, shipboard in the Navy, and then again after my children were nearly grown I found bursts of activity, but this past March brought the most poignant return to hamming. You see I’d been inactive for 20 years while life and business and other pursuits took center stage. And suddenly I found myself not unlike that 12-year old again who just couldn’t get enough. It’s different now, of course. I find rag chews more warmly satisfying and curiously seem to have much more in common with the other old timers I meet on the air. The lure of DX isn’t quite as compelling and the competitive nature of contesting requires more time than my schedule allows. But the hobby is just as stimulating and thoroughly enjoyable as ever this time around, and for that I’m extremely grateful.
I’ve rekindled a joy of QSLing too, and was thumbing through old cards from long ago when I spied one that caused me to laugh. Right there on the front was a caricature of the guy I’ve become. A little man down on his knees, tears streaming from his eyes, and begging for a return QSL. Yep, that’s me these days, I thought.
And I should have put away the card and ended it right there, but I didn’t. Instead, I placed the QSL on the bed of my scanner and captured a digital image. And then, in a moment of inexplicable spontaneity , scanned QRZ for the guy’s callsign. And sure enough, there he was, still apparently kicking after all these years, and his email address was listed along with his postal address too. And you can imagine what I did next. That’s right, I emailed Walt in Germany an image of his QSL from 52 years earlier.
Hi OM, sure hope you receive this, I wrote. Ran across your QSL from 1962 and though to myself that you must enjoy QSLs as much as I. Hope you’re well, my friend. 73/DX, Bill
And that was that, and I didn’t seriously expect a reply. Walt would have to be an old coot like me by now, and who knows if he’s still active in Amateur Radio anyway. He could well be in the middle of one of those lulls that punctuated my career, or perhaps even out of the hobby altogether.
And several days elapsed and thoughts of the little man down on his knees beseeching a QSL faded. But then, late one night, my phone rang. And it was Walt calling from Europe.
And I learned that Walt was indeed still very much an active operator these days. Not only that, but Walt had meticulously logged every contact he had ever made, including whether or not he had sent a QSL or received one in return. And I was busted.
“Dear Bill”, he spoke, with only the faintest hint of an accent. “Thank you for sharing that image of my card from so many years ago. And do you know we also worked on 40 CW too?”, he questioned. And I almost knew what was coming next. “I’m afraid I never received your QSL”, he confirmed, “and I would very much like to have it.”
Few of us have an opportunity to repair our youthful transgressions, but fate had given me a second chance and so I leaped at the opportunity. This time, when I told Walt my QSL was on its way, I meant it, and I scarcely let my shirt tail touch my back as I raced to the Post Office for International postage to seal the deal.
And I sent two custom cards, one for each contact, along with an apology for the QSLs that must surely have been lost in the mail, all the while knowing with chagrin that I likely never sent a card in the first place. And the mailing of those long overdue cards to Walt filled me with warm satisfaction, even a sense of pride, and I beamed for the entire day at the thought of it.
And another week passed by, quickly too, as is the case for me now. Isn’t it curious how time seems to accelerate as we grow older? And then an email arrived from Walt.
“Hello Bill, tnx for your QSLs. Now my 2 new designed QSLs are via AIRMAIL on the way to you. You can see it on the photo. Hope we have a QSO in the future. 73 Walt”
And so this is how it came to pass that a QSL took more than half a century to arrive. And if I tell you my QSL is on its way, you can bank on it.