The Lost Art of Letter Writing

When I was a kid back in the early 60’s, I had a maiden aunt who lived in my mother’s hometown of Morton, Washington.  Given that we lived in the middle of Indiana, Washington state seemed as exotic as the moon. Every few weeks, my brother and sister and I got letters from her, addressed very formally Master Michael and Master Greg for us boys and Mistress Vicki for my sister.  The letters spoke of all the family happenings, what our aunts and uncles and cousins were doing, and what it was like in the green hills of Washington.  I had never met this Aunt, nor any of my mother’s family, but those letters served as an introduction to these strange people from a land that had to be 10,000 miles from us. I remember how thrilled we were and how important we felt when those letters came.

I look back fondly on getting those letters almost 50 years ago, saddened by the fact that my girls, now in their 20’s, rarely received letters in the mail. They do not have a clue what they had missed. The excitement of going to the mailbox, finding a handwritten note from a friend or loved one was a treat, one that created a lifetime of memories.

I went to college in 1975, and my oldest brother worked in the stationery business. One of his company’s big ideas was Bicentennial Stationery, with a flag and 1776-1976 boldly emblazoned on it. He sent me a box at school, and I proceeded to proudly write each one of my 11 brothers and sisters, my parents and others tales of my college exploits.
My siblings commented for years after how impressed they were that I took the time to write and I had matured quickly from the bratty little kid they knew. They were right.
I was homesick and hoping everyday to go to the mailbox and find a letter, bringing news from home; news that the world had stopped for my family because I was no longer there! (Of course life went on without me, I found out, much to my egotistical dismay.)

I had been told you had to write a letter to receive one, and that certainly held true. For my difficult college transition the letters from home were a godsend and helped me survive. I kept those letters through many moves and regret that they have been lost to the passage of time.  I regret more that today’s youth and adults will never know the simple joy of reading and writing letters, being able to keep them as mementos for future generations. Children will never know the thoughts that passed between husbands and wives separated by jobs and war and the stresses of life.

Our society, while advancing, has lost the time and the desire to recognize the social graces. Emails, texts, Instant Messaging, Facebook, Twitter and dozens of other communication avenues I’m too pedestrian to be aware of have replaced the every day letter. And the letter is not coming back; people find it much easier to Skype.

I remember reading one of my favorite books, The Devil in the White City, about the tumult around the Chicago’s World Fair in 1892. I was struck by the mention in this book that the Post Office at that time delivered mail up to 7 times a day. Men and women spent many hours a day on their personal correspondence.  The highest members of society had their most personal notes and invitations hand delivered by servants and it was expected and polite to return letters and invites within the same day.  How times have changed.
The very future of the Postal Service is in question as it tries to cut service and survive in this new world. Maybe $1 stamps and no Saturday delivery is the answer.  Heaven knows we need a postal delivery system of some sort for us Luddites who want to continue sending and receiving these letters from the heart.

On a final note, after I graduated college, I went to work for my brother’s stationery company. On one of my first days, I was touring the plant, re-familiarizing myself with the place I had known as a kid. While in the warehouse, looking at the endless racks of paper, envelopes, boxes, and miscellaneous items stored there, I had to laugh when I saw in a corner 25,000 sheets of the Bicentennial Stationery that he had sent me 4 years before. Come to find out it was one of the worst sellers ever and they had more left than they knew what to do with. So my cheapskate brother sent me a box.
I shoulda known! At least he didn’t charge me…

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