These days, I can count on getting three letters a month. Real letters, not those abbreviated, pretend things that arrive electronically. (My sisters don’t count. They write nice, newsy emails every other day or so.)
My mother writes faithfully once a week, my aunt writes faithfully once a month, and my death-row correspondent always answers whenever I write to him, which is about once a month.
Considering the fact that my mom is 91 and my aunt 80, my three-a-month days are probably numbered–and if they ever, God forbid, do something to take poor Jeff out of the 20-year limbo he’s been in, I may lose even that letter-writer.
Lest you think I’m lucky to be getting even three in a day when people just don’t write any more, let me add that I write 12 letters a month to eight different people. I’m doing my part but the percentage of returns isn’t too impressive.
This isn’t a complaint, though. No, this is just a rueful commentary on the state of communication in today’s world. It’s about what people are missing.
At this very moment, two of my mother’s letters are lying on the end table next to me. Her familiar handwriting is scrawled across the envelopes, and four pages of news are folded up inside each one. I slit them open as soon as I got them and read them right away. Later, I reread them to George, who sits back as if waiting for the next installment of “This is My Life.” We chuckle that each letter includes date, time and temperature. I don’t chuckle too loudly, though, because my letters are headed the same way.
I can reread Mom’s letters any time I want. I can put them in my purse, or stash the “good” ones in a folder as keepsakes. Long after others’ emails are gone and forgotten, I’ll have at least some of my mom’s letters, infused with her personality in a way an email never can be. I can do the same with anyone’s letters I deem special enough to preserve.
Although few people send real mail these days, everyone likes getting it. When the mailman drops a fistful of envelopes through the mail slot, when a person trudges out to the box at the end of the drive, when a mail truck drives by rumbling with possibilities, there’s a delightful feeling of expectancy that’s nothing like opening an inbox on the computer. And no one can deny that finding a personal envelope that’s not an ad, not a bill, is just plain fun. However, since most people don’t write letters, they’re not likely to get them, either. I’m one of the few people around, I think, who doesn’t mind writing into a void.
I used to think that’s because I’m a professional writer. But that doesn’t explain my mother, who has written hundreds, probably thousands, of letters over the years strictly as an avocation. Maybe Mom and my aunt are conscious of the need for someone to help chronicle a family’s life and keep the connections going. When I write to my son, I tell him what the rest of the family is doing. When I hear from my aunt, I learn about cousins I haven’t seen in far, far too many years. Maybe it helps that our family is sprawled across the entire continent and even the world. Big family news-sharing and social gatherings just can’t happen for us.
Maybe. For me, it wouldn’t matter. If I had lots of family around, I’d find someone else to write to. Heck, I even leave notes around for George now and then. It’s an inherent part of my nature. It once was a part of the life of other people. Most have substituted emails or those god-awful phone texts and don’t seem to realize that something in our society is dying. If the electricity ever goes out for good, or if technology should leap and bound ahead of itself, families will have no written records. There will be no love letters left behind, tied with faded blue ribbons; no diaries with private thoughts for descendants to savor. They will all have disappeared with the pressing of a delete key, or the crashing of a hard drive.
People fight to save the whales, bats and spotted owls. I hope at least a few will add personal letters to that list.