When was the last time you sat down and took the time to hand-write and mail a letter?
Do you remember the anticipation of receiving a letter by “snail mail?” Holding it in your hands as you wondered what you might learn from the words written inside, before carefully opening the triangle flap on the back? Or perhaps you ripped into it excitedly, as I sometimes did?
Did you first devour every word, perhaps searching for what you hoped the letter might say, flipping page by page, before reading it again and again to savor each word?
Was the stationary sometimes scented? If it wasn’t, perhaps you might have spritzed it with your favorite scent, if it was for that “special” person.
In the house where I grew up in California, our front door had a mail flap in the middle. The mailman would simply lift the flap in the door and drop all of our mail straight onto our living room floor. When a train roared down the track a block from our house, the metal flap would vibrate with the rest of the house.
Upon arriving home from school, I’d open the front door, running over the mail splayed on the floor. I’d close the door and kneel, gathering all the mail into a pile before flipping through the stack one-by-one to see if I’d received anything. Most days I was disappointed, seeing only bills or advertising, which I’d toss onto the kitchen table.
One mail-related memory still makes me smile. Our dog, Chim, a scruffy little terrier, would bark when she heard the mailman’s footsteps. She’d growl and attack the mail as it came through the mail slot, grabbing those evil envelopes and shaking her head back and forth. Snarling, she’d defend our home mightily from the paper intruders.
Those handwritten treasures didn’t always come in the mail. Sometimes they were dropped in my high school locker. Or perhaps they were written on the back of a senior picture, or inside a hand-delivered birthday card or yearbook.
I have many other memories of hand-written notes and letters—things I took for granted and never really thought about. In fact, I didn’t even take the time to assume we’d always have letters, because . . .
Why wouldn’t we always have handwritten letters?
Then came email.
I LOVED email at first–instant gratification! Though I no longer had to wait weeks between writing and response, emails, too, had an aura of anticipation. And it’s true, they’re as permanent as the sender or receiver wants them to be. I probably have more letters I’ve received by email than I do those I received by “snail” mail, simply because they’re easier to keep, and I know precisely where to find them.
But lately, I’ve felt something was lost when email came along and we quit hand-writing letters.
Years ago, my mother gave me a box of letters. She told me they were old letters between my father and her. It was sealed all around with tape, and she asked me not to open it until after she was gone.
And so, it was packed away, practically forgotten. After my dad died last year, we packed up our house and moved from Dallas to Cleveland. While unpacking boxes in our new house, I came upon the box of letters. I placed it on a shelf in my office, waiting for the “right” time to open it and start reading.
The “right” time arrived a couple of months ago when, while writing my memoir, I thought I might find some interesting details in the letters. Inside the decades-old cardboard box, I found not only letters between my mother and father, a few dating back to before I was born, but also letters from my siblings and me to my dad when he was away on his overseas Air Force assignments.
Reading these treasures, I learned much of my family’s history that I either never knew, had forgotten, or had remembered differently. I began to realize how much was lost when we transitioned from handwritten letters to email.
In my next post, I’ll share excerpts from a few of these letters. Perhaps you, too, will understand why I’ve decided to start hand-writing and mailing letters again.