I am having trouble throwing away a used envelope. It sits on my kitchen counter and I keep picking it up and examining the wavy lines that run across the face of Lady Liberty, announcing that the letter was mailed from Chicago, Illinois on 17 Jan 2012.
I smile at the way it is addressed: to “The Websters” at “Keakolo Place.”Never mind that we live at “Keahole Place.” The wonderful post office in Hawaii Kai was able to get it safely to us anyway.
I smile at the girlish handwriting and the unfamiliar name I now recognize from having read the heavy, cream-colored, handwritten card inside. It’s the married name of the daughter of two of our best friends in Hawaii.
We had invited Alana and her husband, their three sweet young daughters, and her sister to join their parents for dinner with us during the Christmas season. The little ones dominated the evening. Perhaps they even brought it to a premature end—as one of them handed their grand-mama her walking shoes when their parents announced they were leaving early to put the children to bed!
Needing to tend to the children inevitably put limits on the adult conversation with Alana and her husband, David, both of whom we were meeting for the first time. So the arrival of the handwritten card a few weeks later helped make us just a little better acquainted. It said “Thank you” in a voice that could be heard in a way that the words on an electronic screen cannot quite manage. Perhaps it is so because it is not instant communication: it took time and reflection and the intervention of several human beings and multiple forms of transportation, and faith that the card would get to its destination. At least that is what the tactile pleasure of receiving snail mail—opening the envelope and reading the note held in my hand does for me. Every time.
Perhaps that is also why my mother barely tolerates email but treasures every letter that reaches her the old-fashioned way. For years she was a faithful correspondent, sending letters brimming with news to family in Kerala in the Malayalam script she still has not forgotten.
Scholars tell us that writing was seen in earliest times as “a gift from the gods.”
If it is, then I have an easier time thinking of angels poised to deliver the gift with pen and ink. I simply cannot see them on email. Certainly not on Facebook. And definitely not texting.
I have shared the card and the pleasure it gave me with my children. My hope? That the increasingly uncommon art of the handwritten note never dies. More of that and maybe the Post Office won’t die either. I LOVE MY POST OFFICE! And I am newly resolved to use my fountain pens—recently refurbished by my son who has acquired his Dad’s passion for pens. A sign that the art of the handwritten letter is not about to expire in this family any time soon? Maybe. OK. Can throw away that envelope now.
This is a subject dear to my heart….mail. While my handwriting never could redeem me, the mail always did….I found myself typing long letters and sending them to friends; knowing they would read them in bits and parts. Often I used to say “grab a cup of coffee, find a nice reading chair and come join me in spirit for a wild ride” as I would go on a streak of sharing. In recent months given my proclivity to befriend underserved populations, I have found that the written word is something as necessary for the prison population as visits are. They don’t have email rights. Imagine knowing you have several years of time ahead of you and you cannot communicate your thoughts and feelings to the outside world. Word pictures of what lies around you give you the gift of imagination from both sides….some of the best biographies written include correspondence that was saved. We found out how people really felt. My father saved his letters that his parents sent him in WWII and often reread them over the years and let us read them to joke about how much the government had to censore things and tiny little clipped out words checkered those pages. In the movie, The Color Purple, letters undelivered helped the young woman find herself once they were discovered. All of us forget that sometimes letters brought sad news after the fact and gave us time to absorb it in our own ways instead of the in your face manner of instant reality…just add more trauma we seem to embrace now. I am all about letter writing. When I heard that they were considering not teaching handwriting anymore in schools, I got very sad. Most of us now just use email as a way of sending a few sentences….texting gives us non emotional notes. People were not killing one another driving while trying to write letters if you think about it. So writing is an art of communication. Ah well, hopefully it will be rediscovered as the famous pen collector in your family is turning fountain pens into a new spin life cycle! Good article, Dawn. You reawaken the senses with your blogs….life is precious and we forget that our histories that we can look at were written down and recorded.
Beautiful post, Mum! I just mailed off a hand-written Longhorn thank you card yesterday, and thought of you and Dad as I did it. You trained us well…and it’s just so satisfying to write, address, and post those cards! XOXO, SJ
I have to share a wonderfully evocative response from the same dear friend whose daughter’s note occasioned this post. He writes:
“I was reminded as I read that when we were first married, my wife and her mother used to write to each other weekly. The letter from Mami would arrive and my wife would respond at once. The same was happening at the other end, I think. My mother-in-law’s letters always began with the French equivalent of “I am hurrying to write because of the busy week ahead.” And then she would take off on a short description of the week ahead and a longer one about the week behind. Her letters were chatty, anecdotal, and always interesting. I remember one in particular that reported on the death of the neighbor’s dog. “She [the neighbor] howled louder than the animal ever did and certainly louder than she did when her husband died.” It wasn’t. catty just a simple statement of fact-and for that I have smiled ever since.
My wife has all of the letters from her mother. And some day she says, she is going to transcribe them for her daughters. It will be a beautiful gift.
I was also reminded that I have been fretting about the post office recently, even though I rarely write a letter any more-a note of thanks, a note of congratulations, a note of condolence. I emphasize the note part because these communications are all short and I am so used to typing my response and editing at my keyboard that a “handwritten” note has to be drafted and re-written before I can put pen to paper. Be that as I may, I still use the post, and I realize that many people, particularly the poor and elderly, rely on the post for communication with a greater world. It is fine to say that most people use computers, but only if you can afford the computer or have the wherewithal to use them. I know this mania for ending the postal service is growing, but I just can’t see myself Fed-Exing my condolences to a grieving spouse.”
Thank you, Mike! Your response reminded me of my own family’s practice –and expectation–of weekly letters home when we left for college.
Dawn, I am amazed at your writing, it brought tears to my eyes. The picture of your Mama, she is a lovely person. I remember the time she was so kind to me, always welcoming me to your lovely home.I was from a simple home and the love your family gave me remains with me.Dawn, God bless you and your family for the way you all touched me…Catherine Schwartz nee Briggets…does it ring a bell
This is my email….
Of course it rings a bell, Catherine! But I am mystified as to how you found my blog. I will pass your sweet comments on to my Mum and sister. I am sure they remember you fondly. Would love to know where you are and how you are doing. Dawn