A Legacy of Letters

My mother passed away on April 4th.   It was a sacred honor to share her last moments with her.

I had no way of knowing that when I wrote the post a month ago about sending condolence cards that I would be on the receiving end again so soon. Yet there they are, coming in many ways in recent days–on my desk when I returned to work, in the mail, and hand delivered with food or flowers.  And each message has been a sweet gift of memory, comfort or support.

This weekend, as we went through my mother’s belongings, we found anniversary cards from my father, birthday wishes from my grandmother, and encouraging notes from her best friend.  A life’s big and small moments recounted in these cards, leaving sweet traces of the loving circle of family and friends with whom she shared her life.  I enjoyed finding the many cards and notes I sent her, kept with the rest.

And I found cards that she had filled out and not yet sent.  So I forwarded those on to their intended recipients, hoping to close the circle and bring a smile to their faces, knowing that she thought of them fondly, too.

a tree I drew in my work journal

A family’s legacy

In the mix, I found a journal I gave my mother twenty years ago.  I had encouraged her to write down her thoughts, stories and family lore.  This one, like others I had given her, was largely blank save the first four pages.  But those pages are more precious to us than gold.  In them, she shared loving thoughts of her daughters, a memory of her father, a quote from my father, and the story–that none of us knew–of how she got her nickname,  Teenie.

These pages served as a reminder that when people die, they often take their stories with them.  And when our parents pass, they take many of our own stories with them, too.  I would hear my parents’ stories so often, it seemed I could never forget them.  Panic set in once mom was gone, because the stories seemed to evaporate, too.  I seem only to have wispy fragments. I wish I had more of them written in her hand.

But these few must somehow be enough.

This weekend’s explorations of my mother’s legacy–and the letters and cards she received and the notes she left–reaffirmed for me the power and purpose of connecting through the written word.  Go write down your stories in your hand.  Send a letter.  Share your love and thoughts and encouragement with others.  These become part of your legacy and theirs.

Do it now. There is no time to waste.

 

 

 

Snowy Day Stamps

This is the best time of year for my mailbox, and likely yours.  Every day brings a holiday card or end-of-year letter.  And there is glitter everywhere!*

Each year, I get so excited to choose my stamps for the 100 holiday cards I send out.  This year, I knew nearly a year in advance which ones would be decorating my envelopes: the four images of Peter playing in the snow from one of my favorite childhood books, A Snowy Day.

These images, drawn in the early 1960s, still evoke a sense of fun and adventure through their simple design.  But given the world we are in today, these stamps are more than that.  They are a tiny but mighty way of affirming the beauty and innocence of children of color in a world that too often fails at this.   As Andrea Davis Pinkney, recently wrote:

My hope is that the stamps bearing Peter’s image will usher forth positive perceptions, and will make even the most device-driven people glance up from their phones and newsfeeds to enjoy the beauty of a child’s adventure.

A black kid in a hoodie now stands proudly at the upper right corner of millions of envelopes. A brown-skinned boy brings comfort and joy during the holiday season. A child of color helps you and me pay our bills. He’ll bring smiles to people whose mailboxes will be filled with glad tidings. No one will see this kid as a menace, or as a scary societal hazard who portends danger.

Stamps are powerful. They shape narratives about who we see ourselves as as Americans, and show what we value–or should.  So, while these stamps make great additions to Christmas cards, I hope they continue to decorate your letters in the coming year–each one sending a message of hope.

 

If you haven’t gotten yours just yet, you can still purchase them at your local post office or at the Postal Store online.

 

*Random trivia: glitter is called “flitter” by the card designers at Hallmark.  I learned this from my pen pal at The Well-Appointed Desk.

Pony Express Google Doodle

Today’s Google Doodle celebrates the 155th anniversary of the Pony Express.  It features a game that lets you be a Pony Express rider, picking up letters, switching horses, and avoiding the treacherous obstacles that faced these riders as they traveled across the U.S. in the 19th century.  It is a lot of fun, especially when you fall off!

 

Pony Express DoodleYou can find the Pony Express Google Doodle archived here after April 14th.

And here is a great video on the making of the Doodle, with a little Pony Express history.

Hooray for mail-themed games!

 

Edinburgh, Scotland

I just returned from a trip to the U.K.  I visited London, England and Edinburgh, Scotland.  While in Edinburgh, I stayed on the Royal Mile–a stretch of cobblestone street between the Edinburgh Castle and the Palace of Holyroodhouse (the official residence of the British monarch in Scotland).

wpid-20140126_134456.jpgWhile visiting the shops on the Royal Mile, I found Bonnie Blue–a delightful little gift shop with woolen tea cozies and purses and, my favorite, cards and notebooks!  The shop carried a line of items by Wrendale Designs called The Country Set.  I fell in love with the disheveled look of these woodland creatures!

I picked up note books with the hedgehog and the owl.  Take a look:

wpid-storageextSdCardDCIMCamera2014-02-01-12.25.08.jpg.jpgwpid-20140201_121945.jpgMy favorite feature is the back of the books that has another picture, usually of the animal running away and showing off its tush:

wpid-20140201_122055.jpgThen, I saw this delightful tea cup that had this crazy hare, with a little surprise inside as I sip my tea:

wpid-20140201_192904.jpgwpid-20140201_192950.jpgHa!

 

wpid-storageextSdCardDCIMCamera2014-02-01-12.23.15.jpg.jpg

 

 

 

 

 

 

My Childhood Post Office Closed

My childhood post office, a nondescript, cinder-block building on the side of Route 16 in Orma, WV, was shuttered on November 20, 2013 after 108 years of operation.

Orma WV Post Office

 

My parents–knowing my love for all things postal–were thoughtful enough to send me a note that day with the last day’s postmark!

wpid-IMG_20140105_144516_565.jpg

I am sad to hear that it closed.  The post office was already 5 miles from my parents’ house, and their new post office is 10 miles away. On curvy West Virginia roads, that’s a 20-minute drive.  The post office connected their rural community to the outside world for more than a century and now it’s gone.  Makes me wonder what the future holds for the community and for the postal service.

Calligraphy

I love calligraphy.  The pens and inks and alphabets.  I aspire to one day be proficient at it myself.  But until then, I admire those who practice the art.

I read this Wall Streen Journal article a while back about calligrapher Bernard Maisner.   The article ended with:

Yet Mr. Maisner believes that calligraphy answers a demand for beauty and vitality that technology, however advanced, cannot. Calligraphy, he said, “is not meant to reproduce something over and over again. It’s meant to show the humanity, the responsiveness and variation within.”

Yes! And that’s how I feel about handwritten letters versus email and texts.  Beauty and vitality are precisely what I see in the letters I receive.

But any man who, like Maisner, charges over one thousand dollars to write 8 first names on small cards that can “act as a place card along with a take-home gift” is not really preserving calligraphy for the masses.  He’s an artist and he, like many other successful artists, reserves his work for the super rich who can afford his services.

I have no problem with that, but I propose that we all let our artists within run free from our inner critics and just take up a dip pen and try it ourselves.  I’m going to go play right now!

P.S. Check out these pictures of Maisner’s collection of antique writing gear.  They are drool worthy!

P.P.S. And if you want a tattoo of calligraphy, you can get Maisner to design it for you!

J.D. Salinger’s Letters to a Lady

(image from NYTimes)

Check out this New York Times article about Salinger’s letters to a Toronto woman years before Catcher in the Rye.  The woman he wrote to is still alive and 95 years old.

As we document every moment of our lives through social media, I find there’s something elegant in how a few letters can bring to life a moment in time 70 years ago and leave a little room for the imagination.  Will we sift through 70-year old Facebook posts in the year 2083? Or will the internet as we know it even exist then?  I’ll stick with the letters, thank you.

Mr. Zip

(image from Beyond the Perf)

Beyond the Perf has a great little post about Mr. Zip–the icon of a speedy mail man who educated 1960s America about the use of the new ZIP code system. Mr. Zip is making an appearance on the backs of a couple of stamps this year to celebrate the 50th anniversary of ZIP codes.  Read more here.

First Day Cover Advertising

A friend of mine recently showed me some of her grandfather’s stamp collection.  He had some great First-Day Covers (FDCs) from the 1960s.  Here are a couple of the beauties:

The interesting part about these FDCs is that they came through the mail with advertising letters in them! Check it out:

What a neat idea–a collectible first day cover that catches your eye entices you to open it up and read what’s inside.  If advertising mailers today had the same flair, we might not call them junk mail!