With venomous eyes, my mother locked me into a hypnotic trance. Like a python wrapping its thick body methodically around my neck poised to overtake me, she snarled, “Have you written your thank-you notes yet?”
As a young girl, perfect penmanship and flowery descriptions of gratitude were right up there with impeccable table manners. If it wasn’t done in a timely fashion, and to her satisfaction, my life was hell for months to come.
Guiltily, I hung my seven-year-old head in shame, and said with a tremor, “no.”
Gripping her candy apple red nails around my wrist in white-knuckle fashion, she led me to my room. As she pulled out a box of stationary, she icily declared, “You’re not to leave this room until all of them are done. It’s either that or I send all your gifts back.” Wanting the gifts, I wrote under duress.
For years, I followed her Miss Manners instruction in precise detail until one day I discovered a lovely little thing known as e-mail. Why let your fingers get all cramped up when typing was so much easier, not to mention cheaper?
Last year, however, one magical moment would change my way of thinking forever.
I opened a golden lidded box tucked deep in my attic and found a stack of letters written to me, from a time long gone by, before e-mails or cell phones. Most were written in chicken scratch (boys rarely had good penmanship), but the declarations of young love spoke loud and clear. Pouring over them line-by-line, I laughed and cried. I giggled over the ones that professed undying devotion when I remembered going steady typically lasted 24 hours. I teared up over ones that taught me about the woman I would become, and then the ones I remember left me broken hearted.
Carefully placing the stained pages back into the velvet lining, I couldn’t help but think how sad it was that my daughters wouldn’t have this same experience when they turned 61. Their generation is famous for a “read and delete” approach. Maybe a card found it’s way into their mailbox with a few lines scribbled here and there, but gone were the days of pouring one’s heart and soul onto the pages of thinly lined binder paper.
In generations past, writing to family and friends was the only way to communicate at great length. And in those letters, feelings, thoughts, and experiences gushed forth, leaving behind a history of two souls and their journey through life together.
Sitting in the attic, I magically traveled back in time to the girl I once was; the love-struck 16-year-old mesmerized by the star quarterback. The college co-ed exploring relationships that hung on for more than a month, and the broken-hearted woman sobbing over the five-page breakup to a union that was headed for marriage, promise ring and all.
Covering the lid, I placed the box inside my closet for safe-keeping, and as I did, it dawned on me that the mailed letter was becoming a lost art. Something future generations might only read about on Google.
It doesn’t have to be that way, though, for any of us. Next time the computer calls out and an email seems the simplest, fastest, cheapest way to thank someone, get out the stationary and put words on real paper. Maybe, just maybe, it will be re-opened forty years later in someone’s attic, and bring them to remember, to cry and to laugh.
It’s not too late to revive this mode of communication. Just think of how lovely it is when we receive a card in the mail for no apparent reason, especially when every other piece of paper is junk or a bill. If you had the time, who would you write to?