When my children were small, I was a stay-home-mom who hovered in the living room watching for the letter carrier, exulting when George brought me a letter (we were on a first name basis). Email was in its infancy, so when babes were napping, I often pulled out some stationery and wrote a card or letter to friends who weren't yet internet savvy, and then I watched George for responses. In those days, he didn't often disappoint, as I had quite a few penpals, and even though my dearest penpal/friend lived in the same city at the time, we still wrote quite a few letters beyond our weekly Wednesday coffee visits. Now she's 1, 296 km away, but we still use pen and paper occasionally even though we also use email, Facebook and Skype.
Of course, we are the odd women out, as are my aunties, who still use snail mail. Though I'm well aware that hardly anyone writes letters anymore, I was a little bit shocked last week when my youngest daughter asked me to teach her how to write. She had brief lessons in grade three, and has forgotten every bit of them because "no one writes anymore, Mom. We type, or we print." I quizzed my older girls about their handwriting habits and learned that Fourteen-year-old never writes, and can't remember how to form capital letters, while Seventeen-year-old writes more often than printing because "it's faster." Of course, that handwriting is only when she isn't typing. My husband, being a computer guy, has never used handwriting much at all, other than in the love letters I have stashed in a special place.
In my books, there's nothing as satisfying as sitting down with a few blank sheets of paper and a good pen, the kind that flows perfectly with just the right amount of pressure on the page, and filling an envelope with an ink moodling dialogue about daily life for a far away friend who may reply on a similarly lazy afternoon. Letters have a unique way of capturing a moment in time through the expressive loops and lines of cursive writing. They seem to be more thoughtful and considered than rapidly typed emails and text messages, because rarely does a sentence end the way it was begun in a person's mind. I edit as I write, choosing just the right words, adjusting phrases before they become permanent on paper, adding words with a ^ here and there, underlining for emphasis. It's a pleasure I don't allow myself often enough.
And receiving a letter, a written record, a moment from someone else's lifetime, is like receiving a treasure. The paper bears the imprint of someone special at a particular moment -- a moment they chose to spend sharing thoughts across the miles. I've kept a few treasured letters from my grandmothers, and two boxes of "growing up letters" exchanged with the above mentioned dearest penpal/friend. I suppose it can be argued that email does the same thing as letters do, but most of the emails I receive are forwarded jokes, inspirational anecdotes and prayers that don't hold the same sort of thoughtful care that handwritten letters like my auntie's do. I do appreciate personal email messages, but their computer fonts just don't warm the heart the way handwriting does, no matter how messy it can get. It's rare for me to get a handwritten letter and not have the immediate urge to respond. I temper that, though, because I don't want to be like a golden retriever puppy, all paws and tongue, bowling people over with my enthusiastic response and expectation for another letter treat.
So, Auntie Kay, I've checked my "immediate reply" impulse, but I want you to know that your letter was a joy to receive, and I promise I'll give it a couple of weeks and then reply. Thanks for your news, and for the jokes. As promised, here's the one that made me chuckle:
There was a very self-sufficient blind man, who did a lot of traveling alone. He was making his first trip to Texas and happened to be seated next to a Texan on the flight. The Texan spent a lot of time telling him how everything is bigger and better in Texas. By the time the blind man had reached his destination, a large resort hotel, he was very excited about being in Texas. The long trip had worn him out a little so he decided to stop at the bar for a small soda and a light snack before going up to his room to unpack his clothes. When the waitress set down his drink, it was in a huge mug. "Wow, I had heard everything in Texas is bigger," he told her. "That's right," she replied. The blind man ate his snack and finished his drink. After drinking such a large amount, it was only natural his next stop was going to have to be the restroom. He asked the waitress for directions. She told him to turn left at the register and it would be the second door on the right. He reached the first door and continued down the hall. A few steps later he stumbled slightly and missed the second door altogether and ended up going through the third door instead. Not realising he had entered the swimming area, he walked forward and immediately fell into the swimming pool. Remembering everything he had heard about things being bigger in Texas, as soon as he had his head above water he started shouting, "Don't flush! Don't flush!"