I’ve got mail

I owe a young lady a letter.

She wrote to me last week asking how I was, saying she was fine and that she was enjoying a necklace we sent for her birthday. She even drew a picture of herself wearing the necklace. Then she wrote, “Pleeeese respond.”

I can’t remember the last time someone asked me to write back.

We don’t write letters anymore, which is also why we don’t race to the mailbox anymore. The thrill is gone; there’s never anything good in the mail. We know what’s in the mail—advertisements, circulars and more advertisements.

People often ask how I got started writing and my answer is writing letters.

When I was the same age as the little girl writing to me, my father took a new job. We only moved 200 miles, but it felt like we had been separated from friends, extended family and all things familiar by two continents, an ocean and four black holes. Long distance phone calls were rare and expensive then, most often reserved for emergencies or bad news.

But people wrote. Both of my grandmothers, and two of my great-aunts who were retired school teachers, all wrote letters.

And they wrote to me.

It was special that someone took an interest in a homesick kid with shaky penmanship and yellow stationery that came in a pretty tin box. That someone would take the time to put pen to paper and share their lives and inquire about mine meant a lot.

It would mean a lot to anybody, really.

I spent many a Sunday evening straining to compose thoughtful and well-written letters. “Dear Aunt Mary, How are you? I am fine. I hope you are the same.”

I didn’t say I was good at letter writing; I just said it was how I got started.

My mother was an avid letter writer. I looked forward to her letters when I left home, went to college and then hopscotched across the country working newspaper jobs. When I married, had children and moved again, still far from home, she wrote faithfully. Letters were a way of closing the distance.

She was a natural storyteller. She could make a story about a dull gathering where everyone sat on metal folding chairs and had nothing but tepid water to drink and stale crackers to eat and make it sound like the party of the century.

But then, letter writers are storytellers because letter writers are observers—of the world around them, changing seasons, of people around them and changing lives.

As phone calls became affordable, then cheap, then super cheap, then nonstop, the flow of letters slowed to a trickle and eventually stopped.

But that was not the case today. Today there was more than junk, circulars, coupons and advertisements in the mailbox. Today there was something truly special, which takes me to my most delightful task at hand, “Dear Audrey . . .”