I still remember checking the mail at home, me just 9 or 10, eager, hopeful, for a worn envelope with my name on it. “I’m haunting the mailbox,” I’d write my friends as a post script, channeling my inner Anne-of-Green Gables. I learned cursive because my cousin and pen pal had written her name in cursive, and I wouldn’t be outdone.
“You’re lucky, Daddy,” I remember telling him one day, after yet another disappointing mail run. “You get mail every day, with your name on it.”
“They’re just bills or junk mail,” he told me, as if that meant something to mitigate my jealousy.
“It still has your name on it. It’s better than nothing,” I said, and he gave up.
Well, the bills and junk mail do have my name on them, now, and I think I’d rather nothing. But I still check the little mailbox on my front porch every afternoon, still eager, still hopeful.
I still love letters. I love the surprise when I find one sandwiched between the ads for cable TV and Verizon phone service. I love the handwriting of my few friends who still write, the personalities that come through. I read my Alaska-cousin’s practical print on practical notebook paper as she refuses to let me lure her off her one track of writing praise hymns turned prose, and smile that words she writes and the way she writes them meet so perfectly.
Some, like me, use bought stationary, in love with beauty but without the confidence or the time or the creativity to strike out on our own. Others, like the cousin who once sent me a news-paper-style tale of her adventures in San Antonio, send works of art even before I open the folded paper and find the words inside.
And yet I’m writing less and less. I shoot emails off to my siblings in France, depriving myself of “par avion” stamped letters with French postage in return. I haven’t written my childhood pen pals in years, the one with whom I would exchange drawings of cloud families back and forth, back and forth, or the friend I didn’t meet until a mutual friend’s funeral. (Remember through our tears at her viewing? She’d have wanted us to meet, you said.)
I still keep in touch, in a lazy way. I’ll send an IM now and then, a Facebook comment, the occasional e-mail, the even rarer phone call. And I could blame technology or the pressures of a fast moving world or my own lack of meaningful connections or the end of an era – but honestly? It all comes down to this:
I have to pay for my own stamps, now; and four letters equal a coffee at the local coffee shop down the road, or a couple beers on a Friday night.
I’m counting my pennies these days, and postage is quickly outreaching my budget.
But sitting at my desk today, remembering old letters and old friends, I think I’ll break out the note cards and the purple-sparkly pens and drop 42 cents on a postage stamp. Hey, I waste 55 cents on chips at the vending machine regularly, I think a letter is a better investment.
Plus, maybe I’ll get one in return; and letters with my name on them make my day every time.
(Just not the bills, Dad. Guess you knew what you were talking about.)