A Man of Letters Part II

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“Is the mail here yet?”

This is a favorite question at our house.

Why? Because we communicate with people through this archaic, often forgotten, totally inefficient system of paper, pens, stamps and patience.

Do you get excited when you receive a card for your birthday? Not an email but an honest to goodness, physical card that you can prop on the mantle, stick on the fridge or tape to the wall. Do you look forward to the ever dwindling number of cards that arrive as a precursor to Christmas? Does the idea of a package coming across thousands of miles, bringing you something special make you excited and eager to hear the delivery person trudging up your walk?

Me too!

I love letters, cards, packages, postcards, all of it and all of the romance, expectation, exhilaration and yes, the patient waiting that comes along with it.

I come from a time before email.

I come from a people that wrote letters, all of the time to people all over the place.

I come from a point of view that says that a piece of paper, marked in pencil, or pen can carry with it the magic of the person who marked it, and that magic with a little care, can remain with you as a memento for as long as you live.

My mother kept her stationary, whatever type had recently caught her fancy, in a large wooden box that had originally been a silverware case that she had simply removed the molded forms from and lined with emerald green velvet. Within that box were stacks of blank pages, a bundle of pens and pencils wrapped in a piece of navy blue suede and a zip lock sandwich bag containing stamps. She kept it tucked under her desk on top of an old, brown accordion file that held hundreds of letters, cards, post cards and notes that she had received during her life. That file was a chore to lift but I would often find her with letters spread all over her bed as she re-read, researched or reminisced.

Dad’s stash was drawer in his desk that contained small stacks of notecards, always of a nature theme, a hodgepodge of different sizes, colors, shapes and textures of writing paper that he had gathered from gods’ knows where and a small cigar box that contained stamps, refills for his Cross ballpoint pen and a wax seal that he seldom used but that he treasured nonetheless. It was in the form of a capital letter C for his surname and it had been made for him using his own handwriting.

Mom, dad and I exchanged letters even when we lived in the same town. Mom and I exchanged seeds from our herbal pursuits and for a couple of years, dad and I would swap back and forth snake sheds, (which the challenge was to guess the species of) dried leaves and flower petals.

My grandparents were the same, we wrote because we loved to write and because we loved each other.

Out there in the ether, in the “cloud” on the web, we store all of these dots and dashes, all of this history turned into pixels and light. But to me it is worthless in a blizzard when the power goes out, but I can still light a candle, spread out the cards, letters and notes I have saved and have the spirits of my clan around me.

There is a feeling, so fulfilling and romantic about choosing stationary, appropriate for who you are writing to, choosing a pen whose ink stands out against the paper, yet melds with it instead of clashing. Then addressing an envelope and for a long moment, pondering what that place looks like if I have never been there, or remembering something amazing about it if I have.

I constantly look for greeting cards everywhere we go, I have found beautiful ones, opened but unused in goodwill, or at the thrift store. I can easily lose an hour in the bargain bins after the holidays looking for just the right cards. The Papyrus store in Ross Park Mall used to be an Eden for me and though they were often expensive, they had such beautiful things…

I hoard smooth writing pens in my favorite letter and card writing colors, black, burgundy, purple, dark green and copper. I favor uni-ball or gel pens but for years wrote with nothing but a fountain pen but my favorite one was stolen from a café several years ago and I have not replaced it, yet.

I have owned and will own again, dozens of seals. The type that you press into hot wax to close an envelope. How I lost them is another story but there are those who will read this that have gotten letters from me, pressed closed with emerald wax with a spreading oak tree sunken into it, or purple wax, embossed with a coiled serpent.

I believe that the power that lies in magic is so often in how you create it and so I make a ritual of letter writing, I gather my tools around me, I add music to the atmosphere and almost always candlelight and then for however long it takes me to write, I do nothing else. No distractions, no side projects, no multi-tasking, there is nothing but me, the paper, my tools and my intent.

Our post office employees know me by name and will instantly show me whatever beautiful new stamps came in since my last visit and I will often agonize over which ones to add to which envelopes. By the way, stamps can be SO beautiful that there are some that I hesitate to use, but I always do.

Why?

Because writing to people is an act of love.

The letters and the cards need not be romantic, they need not be love letters, but there is a sacrifice, a mindfulness required when writing a letter, there is an honesty that is called for, there is an intention in creating something that may well out live us and then sending it off through a series of human hands, machines and various way stations along the road.

And I defy any of you to say that you have never been moved by a card or letter you have received. Or barring that, that you cannot imagine being moved by one, that you could not find yourself humbled and touched by the act of someone creating something for you out of their thoughts, effort and intention and then trusting it to strangers to bring it into your hands.

Some of you young folks may never have received, nor sent a “snail mail” letter or card and my heart breaks for you. As a matter of fact, I will go a step further. If you have never received a card, or a letter, hand written by someone, get in touch with me and I will personally remedy that, because you deserve to know how it feels.

That extends to any of you. If you wish to write back and forth with me, I would be honored, and perhaps we can reinvigorate the art of the letter, now wouldn’t that be beautiful!

I promise you, that once you have tried it, once you have jotted some thoughts, a quote, a poem, or have even torn your very soul out and put it on the page for another person to read, that you have missed one of the greatest and most honest feelings that you will ever have.

We all love to receive evidence that someone is thinking of us, and we should do that for each other, for as long as we can…

Take care of each other…

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3 thoughts on “A Man of Letters Part II

  1. Beautiful! My great aunt and I used to exchange letters. Generally of trivial things, what I did that day, who she had brunch with but I treasure them now. I also have letters exchanged by my great-grandparents back when they were courting, when mail went twice a day. Remind me and I will share them with you next time you visit.

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  2. Some of my most treasured letters from the old days were ones of such baneful triviality that I knew that my mom, dad or grand-da must have written them for the sheer joy of putting pen (or in grand-da’s case pencil) to paper just to communicate. Those meant something, because they said, “I have nothing earth shattering to say but I am still thinking of you! Thank you for coming by to read this and I look forward to seeing those letters!

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  3. My father is not a letter writer. He is functionally illiterate due to learning disabilities. But once he wrote me a one page letter. And I framed it. Because I know the incredible effort that was required. I love pens…and paper…and stamps. And I love exchanging letters–written in a time when we can’t seem to slow down enough to take pen in hand. Thank you for the lovely post.

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