We text, we email, we post messages on Facebook and Twitter. I’ve probably left out other ways of messaging that I don’t know about, but as a fairly new member of the senior citizens club, I am keenly aware that the world is moving faster than I care to keep up with when it comes to staying in touch with my personal universe. As a people-watcher, I am concerned that so many of us walk around carrying our phones with us, eyes glued to the tiny screen, always on alert so that we won’t miss a single thing! We message all day long, but do we ever stop to consider what we are really doing? We are communicating, but something seems to be amiss. Something is missing.
This brings me to the big question of the day.
What ever happened to letter writing?
The other day, I wanted to send my sister-in-law a note and enclose a magazine clipping for her. I know that she doesn’t use email or Facebook, so whenever we need to get in touch with other, it is usually via a phone conversation. On this day, however, I felt drawn to write to her. But what ever happened to the boxes of note paper and stationery that I used to keep at my desk for occasions such as this? I searched and searched, and finally found an old note paper box ‘way back in the recesses of my “junk” drawer. Was this what my world is coming to? Writing paper is now classified as junk? After I scrounged around and found a pen with a decent point for writing, I sat down and began to compose my message. As I wrote, I remembered doing this once upon a time back in the dark ages before computers and smart phones. And I thought about my mother.
My mother was a letter writer. I can still picture her sitting at her secretary in our living room, a box of scented Montag or Hallmark stationery prominently placed on the desk’s writing surface, and sometimes also a box of note cards, blank on the inside- she liked to write her own messages and not rely on someone else’s thoughts. The boxes changed as she emptied one and opened another, usually from the stash of gifts that she had received for Christmas, Mother’s Day, or her birthday. The paper was lovely- it usually had birds or flowers on it, and was a delicate, airy paper. The envelopes were lined in a pastel color to complement the stationery. The fragrance was delicious! I can also see in my mind’s eye the bottle of Schaeffer’s ink, which also sat at her desk – royal blue. It was called Scrip Writing Fluid. She always used blue ink, never black. She would take her ink pen, dip it into the bottle, and pull up the blue liquid into the barrel of the pen using the nifty ink filling lever along its side. After writing a page, she would turn the paper over and blot it onto the absorbent blotter that sat on the surface of her desk, so that none of her words would be smeared. This ritual was all part of the art of letter-writing.
I also remember receiving letters from Mama. Every summer when I went to summer camp, she would write to me every day, telling me all about what she was doing, what was happening in the neighborhood, any and all family news she thought I needed to know, and always assuring me that she loved me and missed me. She would also always include questions for me to let me know she was thinking about me – how was my day? Was I having fun? Was I making lots of new friends? I would receive the letters, always taking a second before opening them to sniff and inhale the wondrous fragrance that reminded me of my mama. The letters also came my way when I went away to college, and then after I married. I could count on receiving one from her every week. And, they weren’t short notes, either. Mama believed that a good letter should be at least two pages long, with three being even better. And equally important, the writing was only on one side – never a word graced the back of a sheet of paper!
As the years passed, Mama moved from the ink pen to the handier ballpoint pen, but always with blue ink. (I wonder what she would think of the wonderful colors now available in Sharpies)! Her handwriting was neat and legible, with a little artistic flair that she had learned as a schoolgirl in her rural Kentucky one-room schoolhouse. She believed that penmanship was next to Godliness!
Ah, the art of letter writing! Is it truly a lost art that we have stored in our memory banks of our parents and grandparents? As I sat down to write to my sister-in-law, I envisioned her delight on opening her mailbox to find something more than bills and advertisements waiting for her. I followed her as she walked to the little table next to her garden window to sit down and open her treasure. I watched as she read my message, perused the clipping I’d enclosed, and then re-read the note. She would share it later with my brother for him to read. I think my mother went through the same mental process with every letter and note that she wrote, as she always thought about the person who would receive her message. This was her way of telling people she was thinking about them and letting them know that they were important and special to her.
How I wish my little note could have been lightly scented!