Before email and text messaging, people kept in touch through letters. Penpals waited months to hear from correspondents around the world. When the letters finally arrived, they were opened like little treasures. The stamps were carefully inspected, as were the handwriting (or typewriting, but this was seldom), envelopes, and stationery. Relatives abroad sent missives scrawled on thin aeropost paper that folded over to make its own envelopes. Everyone was a handwriting expert and puzzle decoder, the skill gained from deciphering the chicken tracks sketched by friends and family.
The advances in technology have nearly killed off letter-writing. True, it is now more convenient than ever to communicate with people, yet there is a touch of soul and heart missing in the disturbed electrons that dance across a computer or mobile phone screen.
Interior decoratrix and lifestyle guru Alexandra Stoddard attempts to reverse this trend by waxing lyrical about the art of letter-writing in her book Gift of a Letter (1991).
She tells of her love of stationery, fountain pens, and sealing wax – interests I share – and how she uses these objects to pen handwritten notes to connect to people in an intimate and special way.
She makes clear, though, that you don’t need fancy pens or paper to drop your friends a line. What is important is sending something tangible – a piece of yourself that they can read over and over again, and tuck away in a box to read again later. Telephone conversations and text messages do serve the purpose of keeping people in touch, yet these methods of communication are ephemeral. They travel over the ether and vanish, leaving you with a dim memory of someone’s voice or a shared sentence or two.
Among the things I keep in my “memory box” are letters from my aunt, Araceli “Cely” Ortuoste, our clan matriarch. Her letters share stories about her parents and grandparents whom I never met. When I visited her in her home in California some years ago, she told me the same stories. Yet the details of our conversations are forgotten; the letters, though, will always be there to remind me. My mother sends greeting cards from the Bay Area; her hand cramps and it’s difficult for her to curl her fingers around a pen, yet she manages to scribble a line or two in inks of different colors. I run my hands over the ridges on the paper and feel her with me, although it has been seven years since we last saw each other.
A letter shows that you cared enough to exert the effort of picking up a pen, writing a few lines with your recipient in mind, and mailing it. Use whatever’s at hand. A stray pentel and a page torn from a notebook are materials enough.
If you don’t like writing, why not send a little gift? A UK-based friend, Annie Merginio-Murgatroyd, mailed Ty Beanie Babies for my daughters; I sent her a signed mini-quilt. No words need be shared; the mere act of sending something that can be touched speaks volumes.
Vita is brevis. Let’s not take anyone or anything for granted. Think of the people you hold dear, and send them a little bit of your heart.