Taking Pen to Paper

When was the last time you received a letter?

Not a surprise letter from the IRS saying that you…weee!…owe them several thousand dollars or a letter from your local library telling of a way-overdue book that you could swear you returned. Remember that episode of Seinfeld with The Tropic of Cancer book that was 20 years overdue?

No, I’m talking about an honest-to-God, old-fashioned, written on nice stationary (or at least some colorful paper) letter. Who gets those anymore in the age of texting, email, Skyping and FaceTime? I love how we even refer to them now as “old-fashioned”. This is just something that was a completely standard form of communication a few short decades ago.

I was lucky enough to get one just a few weeks ago.

A bright pink envelope arrived in my mailbox. I love getting the mail. Honestly, I don’t know what I think is going to appear in that mailbox (a gift? Harrison Ford? a new car?), but I always love peeking in there. This envelope even had the magic words on it…Par Avion…Air Mail. I love those letters, with their international, beautiful stamps. They always seem to be extra-stamped with ink-stamps, too, making them appear all the more special. You can just picture the postal worker in some far-off city with their Par Avion stamper…ka-bam! ka-bam! ka-bam! Send this one overseas!

An old friend of mine who lives in Paris decided to write me an OF (old-fahioned) letter recently. We had connected earlier (briefly) via email and then I waited to hear from her once she returned from a quick trip to Amsterdam. No emails arrived and I started to wonder. But then the letter came! Fun! One of the first lines in this lovely letter on lovely stationary was “I figure if we are going to catch up, how much nicer is it to receive a letter rather than another email?”. Got that right. I just love her.

It was truly a surprise to find this in my mailbox. I can’t tell you the last time I pulled a GOOD letter out of there. It got me thinking that, beyond cards for holidays, people just don’t write letters anymore. It’s amazing how that has changed. Not all that long ago, we had to have patience when communicating. Wait for the mail to arrive. Wait for the person to get home to check their answering machine. Now we just need 4G instead of 3G. I distinctly remember waiting for the mailman when I was dating my husband back in college. Hmm. That almost didn’t sound right.

Also when I was in college (apparently a big era for writing. All hail the 80s), one of my grandmas wrote to me every single week. And in her letter there was always money, in some amalgamation, totaling exactly five dollars. How cute is that? It could be a crisp five dollar bill, a few singles and change, singles and stamps (to write back to her). She wrote to me of her daily goings-on, nothing earch-shattering but dear in it’s simplicity, she told me to study hard and that she loved me. All alongside those sweet five dollars. Thanks to her, I was able to do my laundry each week. I’ll never forget those regular letters and how I loved receiving them. One that I saved actually fell out of one of my cookbooks just the other day. Fun to have Grandma reappear like that.

These days, when you do have the luck to receive a letter, it just floors you. Or at least it does me. That person took the time! They bought stamps! They went to the post office to mail it! They had to buy stationary! It’s as good as a full-fledged present because time was put into it. That’s something that isn’t doled out willy-nilly these days and everyone seems to have a shortage of it.

One of my favorite parts of the Sex and the City movie (the first one…aka The Good One) was when Carrie was reading the book of love letters from notable men to their loves-wives, girlfriends, lovers. Ever mine, Ever Thine, Ever Ours. 100 points for you, Mr. Beethoven. Game over, you win. Who could resist THAT? Counter that by perusing Hallmark cards or listening to (some) stuff on the radio…now we can see how civilization is crumbling. Oh, it just makes you melt when you see how communication-especially the great stuff involving love-was once handled. Or did you ever see the mini-series with Paul Giamatti and Laura Linney…John Adams? They were   intellectual equals AND madly in love AND they wrote hundreds of letters back and forth to each other. Ah, the good old days. If there’s one thing I am it’s a sucker for romance. Put in the form of a letter and you had me at Hello.

Needless to say, I plan to write back to my friend in Paris this week. I just have to get some stationary, as I don’t even own any at the moment. How sad is that? I haven’t done this in so long that I’m actually strategizing how to carve out the time to do it. Again, how sad is that? She sat at a little cafe (ok, in Paris. So much better…she even said it was the one from the movie Before Sunrise) so maybe I will start there…find my favorite Le Pen and some gorgeous paper and go back in time a bit.

Should be good for the soul, I think….Thank you for taking me back in time, my friend!

4 thoughts on “Taking Pen to Paper

  1. I can’t believe what soul sisters we are! I was JUST digging through an old box of letters/cards/photos from the distant past in order to find something lovely to photograph for my Photo A Day project (I’m woefully behind! Topic from the other day is Letter…!) I too was humbled & amazed at the care and effort and love and TIME it used to take to sit and write a letter! I have saved dozens and dozens (weeded out from what seemed like hundreds at one time!) in a box…most of them from my far-away friends (Switzerland, Australia, Turkey, France, etc.) You’re right, the ones with the Par Avion envelopes & dreamy exotic stamps…those ones are definitely keepers!!! I need to do more letter-writing as well. However, the last time I did it, my hand ACHED and HURT and I noticed my hand-writing, once so lovely, had morphed into some kind of strange chicken scratch!!! Those writing muscles are so woefully OUT OF SHAPE! (Do they have Boot Camp for Letter Writing? You know, to get our hands back in shape?! Let’s start one at the nearest cafe…!) XO

  2. I love getting letters in the mail, too! Its one of the reasons I love Christmastime so much- things (other than bills) arrive in the mailbox!!! I know cards are not quite the same as letters, but for the season, and because getting things in the mail is so rare, they are wonderful nonetheless. You are right, though, that there is *something* about an actual handwritten letter… I love getting them! I also have saved some my grandpa sent me while I was in college!

    I don’t know about you, but when I have gotten letters in the mail, I always feel like they need special attention… I can’t just read them standing at the counter, or in the midst of some other task, the way I can a card or a bill…. I seem to need to sit down somewhere comfortable- couch, hammock, patio, bed- open it carefully and make sure I have the *time* to read and take in what was written…. no quick glances over a letter!! They are serious business!

    My aunt always appreciates a letter in the mail… perhaps I will write to her this week…

  3. You touch a subject dear to my heart. Real letters can be revelations. These days, though, even the Christmas card exchange seems on its way to extinction.

    I have a few typed letters from a grandfather who died before I came along, and one each from a great-grandfather (in a declining script as he goes along — his education was broken off by the Civil War) and his second wife (in an elegant, neatly composed hand) — each one is a revelation in their emotions and thinking. Nothing like that will survive from our electronic exchanges.

    These few pieces of paper introduced me to people I’m glad to claim as my own. Paper, fragile as it is, can have a history.

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