Thursday, August 9, 2007

Empty Mailbox - The Lost Art of Letter Writing

I remember as a child I loved to hide in my mother's closet, way in the back, near the shelves in the corner. I'd pull a worn shoe box from the lowest shelf and carefully open the lid. I'd run my fingers through the stack of old letters contained inside, cards of condolence from my grandmother's death, letters from my uncle who lived far away, and the most fun of all - cards of congratulations from the year of my adoption.

I'd open the cards and letters, slowly read the words, wondering about the people who'd written them, what was going on in there lives so many years ago, and their connection to my parents. The smell of old paper filled the closet. I'd admire the stamps, wishing I could ask for them for my stamp collection. But then I'd have to admit to my mother that I'd gone through her personal letters and worse, she'd discover my favorite hideout.

As a teenager, I dated a young man who was away in the military. We wrote to each other most every day. I'll never forget the rush of emotion I'd get when I opened the mailbox to find an envelope with his handwriting or the let down when nothing was there. I kept those letters, in chronological order (obsessive, I know) for many years and he kept mine. It was a record, of sorts, of our young lives.

When I lived away from home I wrote faithfully to my parents. My mother kept them all, and I know, experienced the same rush as I did when she'd discover a long letter from me narrating my latest adventures as a new mother.

I don't write much anymore, a card here, a note there. She misses my ramblings about what I cooked for dinner and my most recent adventure to the beach. She misses the details. I talk to her on the phone but it's not the same. She doesn't have a computer so email is out.

And it's email that is the problem. It's taken over. I don't write anyone, anymore, unless it's digitally. I guess that counts but I wonder what will be left behind. Nothing but electronic archives, files of digital code, nothing tangible like the smell of old paper and the look of my uncles compact handwriting, his expressions of love for his little sister.

I bought a pack of artistic paper and rose colored envelopes over a month ago. I'd been thinking about letter writing and digital photos and how in this age of technology I miss holding something "real" in my hands - flipping through tattered pages and sorting old photos into stacks.

My challenge is to brighten one person's day with a letter, a tangible letter they can touch, smell, fold and put away for safe keeping. I think it will be to my mother, yes, another new one finally, to add to her box.

Who's waiting on a letter from you?

19 comments:

Anonymous said...

I agree totally! You know I did the same thing.......kept ALL our childhood letters to each other. I kept them for many years and finally destroyed them along the way. I miss our letter writing! I would love a letter too!!!

Your sister/cousin/soulmate
Tina

Lisa McGlaun said...

Hey Tina, my sweetie pie!
You know I love you. You've got it, a letter, right after Mama gets hers.

Thanks you for the many times you've commented on my posts. I love you for it!

People in the Sun said...

I was thinking about that recently, after a guy who used to work with me wrote me a how-are-you letter. For months his letter was waiting on my desk. I reminded myself to write back, and every day I postponed it for the next day. Of course, soon I started getting annoyed at him for not having a computer.

Funny, I have a drawer filled with memories: letters, inscripted photos from my first girlfirend--yet there are no digital files there.

So finally, after I wrote a post about that, I decided to send him a letter instead. It felt so good to finally do that.

But then he sent me another letter and I started really getting angry. "Write Paul a letter back" is back on my task list.

Lisa McGlaun said...

PINTS,
I had to laugh..I know what you mean. I wish my mother would get a computer but at her age I think it's a No Go. She doesn't want to learn anything new and why should she bother with technology at 76, she's managed fine without it until now.

Thanks so much for your comment. It made me smile.

ruthie said...

Hi Lisa,

I really like your blog.

I just mailed a letter today that I wrote to a friend that I had sitting on my desk since June 9th!

I am responding to your post about Joe Hedges.

Joe Hedges is my favorite band. Hope you have a copy of the Curvature CD -- I listen to it all the time.

Just curious, how did you come across Joe Hedges? Read my blog on how I did.

Turns out, I am lucky Joe Hedges is a Cincinnati-based band. I have the opportunity to hear them often.

Thanks for your comments! Wishing you all the best!
Ruthie

Vienne said...

I can really relate to your sentiments in this post! I too have been thinking about what we've lost with email...remember thinking, really thinking, about what to write on a particular card or letter? Now with all the ready made e-cards and fill-in fields, it seems too easy for real emotions. I was just going through a box of stamps my uncle, long gone, collected. Many were cut off of the European envelops where the letter is written on the inside of it. On the backs of many stamps were, "Dear Papa,". I wish I had the rest of those letters!

Lisa McGlaun said...

Vienne,
I know exactly what you mean. When people you cared about are gone the little things mean so much, a few words in their handwriting take on special meaning.

Thanks for the comment.

NeoAuteur said...

Stamp collecting is one of my favorite hobbies. I even wrote a post with regards to how this art has become obscure in face of digital technologies.

Lisa McGlaun said...

Neo,
My mother in law gave my sons stamp collecting kits. They really like them but I wondered the same thing. Where are they going to get stamps?

I kept my collection for a long time but have no clue where it is now. I would have loved to pass them on.

Shari Thomas said...

Hello Lisa,

I get a real kick out of receiving hand-written letters, but alas, my handwriting is so bad that before the ink dries, I can't decipher what I wrote.

Please accept this as my "hand-written" and heart-felt note to you...

I'm bestowing a very special and well-deserved award upon you and your blog. You'll have to stop by my blog at Shari's Gone Country! to pick it up.

You'll love it!
Shari Thomas
Beryl, UT

drivebybanjo said...

You've motivated me to get out my pen and paper and start scribbling to people I love. Thank you!

Lisa McGlaun said...

Shari!
Don't know what to say except Thank you!

I'm on my way to see what it is.

Lisa McGlaun said...

Driveby,

You could not have given me a greater compliment...thanks so much. Come visit again sometime.

Peace,
Lisa

La delirante said...

Hi Lisa, I love letters that are sent to my home though I don't receive almost any lately :( When I was a teenager I had lots of snail mail friends, pen friends and we exchanged coins, stamps, pictures, post-cards. It was a lot of fun but little by little I stopped corresponding. Life was becoming too hectic and I didn't have the time to think carefully to send a high quality letter not the usual stuff. Anyway, I miss those snail mail friends now :(

Lisa McGlaun said...

Wen,
I haven't gotten a letter in a long time either. My mother in law is great about sending post cards from vacations and handmade cards for birthdays. I wish I was more like that.

Good to hear from you,
Lisa

RockStories said...

What a great post that touches on a great sentiment. I, too, used to be an avid letter writer and eagerly checked my mailbox each day, but the speed and efficiency of email has wiped all that out. Even though a letter might take only two or three days to arrive, the pace of life today seems to render everything that might have gone into that letter "old news" before it could oossibly arrive.

I have one friend (with whom I used to exchange numerous long, hand-written letters) who sends out Christmas letters, and even though the same letter goes out to everyone the character of that letter is somehow more personal than all the quick notes that might pass through email in the interim.

Lisa McGlaun said...

Rock,
I know what you mean about letters being old news. You're right, by the time they get to the recipient, we've already talked on the phone, emailed, and text messaged each other several times...lol.

I still love the intimacy of a hand written letter. I hope they never completely go away.

mrsnesbitt said...

What an incredible post, this has really got me thinking. Yes I do have some incredible important documents about the house. I am going to have a good sort out and bring a few to light.

Dxxx

Lisa McGlaun said...

I keep all of my sentimental items in a an antique cedar chest that I inherited from my aunt. It's getting full...lol.

Thanks for the comment, Mrs.