My birthright

Folks have often wondered where I got the letter writing “bug.”  All I can say is, “It was in my blood.”

To set the stage, I was born at a time when long-distance phone calls were still expensive (long before those call-all-you-want-for-one-fixed-price plans).  So, letters were the best way for kids without jobs to keep in touch.  In the days before the internet, we shared pictures, jokes, clippings, and other ephemera with our friends and family via the mail. This was the era before spam email when people had to photocopy copies (of copies) of chain letters, recipes, political rants, and racy jokes to share them with one another. It was more work than today’s email versions, but we did it anyway!

And I lived in the country, with few neighbors and practically no other kids to play with. In this context, letters from elsewhere took on a bit of a magical quality.  They were contact from “out there in the real world.”

Given all this, I was fertile ground for the seed of letter writing and this seed was planted at an early age by both of my grandmothers.

My dad’s mom always wanted to own a card and stationery shop (an unfulfilled dream she must have bequeathed to me) and was an avid letter writer.  She would write back, a very reinforcing gift to a budding letter writer!

But it was my mom’s mom who really fostered my love of sending and receiving letters and packages.  She worked at the post office, so she would send little notes with regularity.  She was also renowned for her care packages full of random fun.  I vividly recall a St. Patrick’s day themed package that came with a headband sporting glittered, bobbling shamrocks, a box of green Jell-O, lots of candy, and oddly enough, pairs of green underwear.  Anything green made the cut! As a young adult, I began to carry on this tradition, sending similar themed packages to folks for birthdays or just to cheer them up.  I knew the power such packages had! 

My mom’s mom also introduced me to stamp collecting. I haven’t talked about that much on here yet, but will share some of my favorites from my collection on future posts. I remember seeing the first-day-issue cancellations my grandmother collected for my grandfather and thinking how special they seemed–printed with his name, mounted on a card explaining the stamp’s history and meaning, and then carefully placed inside a plastic protective covering and kept in a binder for safe keeping. Stamp collecting involved history, art, organizing, and a flair of adventure. I was in love!

So, you see, I was just an innocent victim.  This outrageous love for pens, letters, packages, stamps, and all things snail mail that I harbor was foisted upon me.  Now that the world has moved on to faster forms of communications, I can’t abandon this birthright of mine.  It’s part of my family history and I plan on preserving this tradition as long as I can. And I’m busy inculcating a younger generation just as my grandmothers did. 

That’s what you’re supposed to do with traditions.

A birthday request

I love finding handwritten letters in my mailbox.  I know I’m not alone in this. 

Given the prevalence of email, texting, phone communication, and online bill pay, though, it feels like my daily trip to fetch the mail makes me nothing more than a conduit from mailbox to recycling bin (do you hear me credit card companies? You’re wasting your paper and postage!).  Maybe, if I’m lucky, I’ll find a movie or magazine to make the trip worth it.

I’ve decided I’m not going to give into this new reality easily.  I am making it my life’s mission to help people reconnect with each other, and with themselves, through the handwritten word.  I want to help save snail mail.  I’m doing this because I know in my heart the following are true:

1. Letters forge a tangible, personal connection between two people.  You both touch the same paper.  You can open it like a gift, enjoy it over and over again, and hold on to it as a memento.
2. Writing and reading letters are great ways to unplug from our increasingly wired world.
3. You can share thoughts, feelings, and memories in letters that some would hesitate to do so via email or phone.  A love letter spoken over the phone could sound hokey or trite, but written on nice paper in your best script can bring your lover to tears.  

With these thoughts in mind, I made a birthday request this year—sent via email!—for friends and family to send me a handwritten note:

Dear friends and family,
As I walked to my mailbox today, I wondered–as I always do–if there would be any “fun” mail inside.  Alas, nothing but Netflix movies and requests for me to purchase more magazines.
I realized that what I wanted most for my birthday was handwritten letters from friends and family, near and far.  Will you please write me a letter, seal it in an envelope, buy a stamp and drop it in the mail?  The letters can be short or long, funny or sad, in cursive or print, on gorgeous paper or on a napkin. Share what you’ve been doing, what you hope for the coming year, your biggest fear or regret, a story about your best memory, your thoughts about me, or German philosophy, or knitting, your kids, your pets, or crunchy vs. creamy peanut butter.  As long as you share something of you with me, in your own handwriting, I’ll be happy. 
Some of you will groan at this request, a few will happily take this on.  I just wanted to let everyone know what I really wanted for my birthday…a bit more happiness in my mailbox.
I promise to return your kindness with a heartfelt, handwritten note of my own!  I won’t expect that this will strike up a letter revolution right away, or expect you to write back again, but I hope it helps some of you rediscover the joy of sending and receiving letters.
Love and stuff,

Future posts will be devoted to the response I get to this little experiment, other mail-generating activities, and progress on my quest to help people reconnect with others, and themselves, through the power of the handwritten word.