Friday, May 15, 2015

"Write me a letter, send it by mail"

“Write me a letter, send it by mail”
     Letter writing is seen today as a quaint relic of a bygone era.  Yes, I mean snail mail.
    Yet I like receiving letters and I also like writing them. I like looking at people’s distinctive handwriting and remembering the writer—my father’s angular style, a holdover from using German script, my mother’s less practiced style, my brother’s scrawl,  one sister’s typed letters with hand-written postscript, and another’s written on her lap or wherever she was perched with a few minutes to spare. Each letter brings back memories of the senders and draws them close. 
    I use email. It’s quick and efficient.  But when, later,  in conversation, I mention something I had mentioned in an email, I get a vague response, “Well, yes, I remember seeing something about that in an email from you…” I get the feeling that reading a message on the tiny phone screen doesn’t seem important and gets glitched over .
    I scroll through Facebook quickly because much of it is stuff copied from other people’s stuff and I am looking for personal stuff that will tell me what is going on in people’s lives.  
    So I like letters, real ones, with words written on personal letterhead or scrap paper, quickly or slowly penned, carefully or sloppily.    
    I thought about what real letters mean to me as I photocopied a stack of my father’s letters to send to an archivist.  I re-read the one he wrote shortly after my husband died.  He was about 1500 miles away. The year was 1962. “We don’t know what to say, Katie. But I do not want you to suffer.” “Not” was underlined several times.  He told me to phone his bank manager if I needed money. “I want you to write a check or checks as needed to our Blaine Lake bank… Don’t get stuck and suffer. I mean it.”  The last three words were also underlined in red. “Chin up, be strong.” 
     I have often wondered whether he was thinking of his own mother widowed during the typhus epidemic that followed the Russian Revolution. She arrived in Canada in 1923 from Ukraine with no real means of support. Did he remember how she struggled to make ends meet in the new land? 
     In another letter he reminded me, “Remember you are a Funk.” I tacked that to my bulletin board for a long time. His concern for me and my young children came through clearly.
     In a whimsical mood he began one letter: “Dear loving, talented, charming, devoted, unselfish, smart, clever, ingenious, loyal, honest, hard-working, admirable child!!!!”  Where did he get that string of adjectives?  Certainly not his usual language. We developed a bond through letters though he was several thousand miles away.  
     He sometimes retreated into the past in his longer letters to share experiences about his childhood, the Russian revolution and its aftermath of anarchy and famine.  These were the ones the archivist was interested in.  
     For decades he subscribed to a periodical to which I was a regular contributor. When I quit writing my biweekly column after thirty years, he let their subscription lapse. But he commented often – “Katie, I agree with what you said….”  “Katie, be careful, don’t go against the wind. You’ll get sand in your eyes.”  “Critics can be brutal…”

     Mother was the caretaker of the letters when they arrived. The envelope was carefully slit open and the precious pages removed to be read and re-read. Then they were placed in a basket on the coffee table to be able to check a detail again or to allow visiting children an opportunity to read them. Mother then stored them with other letters. You don’t throw away life blood.

     Mother and Dad were devastated whenever the postal workers in Canada went on strike and, sometimes, for weeks at a time, they were without this letter lifeline. Phoning was not yet the comfortable practice it is today. Words spoken over the airwaves were forgotten too quickly, not always clearly understood. And, in early days, too expensive. 
     So I cherish letter writing that still brings the passion and distinct personality  of the writer across the miles that Tweets, emails, texting with its new vocabulary never will.   These have their place in our modern, fast world, but let’s not neglect the personal message. Send me a letter, send it by mail. 


  1. I agree! It makes my heart skip a beat to catch sight of the red and blue border of an airmail envelope among the flyers and solicitations in the mailbox. They come all too infrequently, but when they do they are a treasure.

  2. I agree! It makes my heart skip a beat to catch sight of the red and blue border of an airmail envelope among the flyers and solicitations in the mailbox. They come all too infrequently, but when they do they are a treasure.

  3. The rarer handwritten letters become, the more valuable they are! I try to remember this and sometimes get out the stationery and fountain pen. I love the tactile sense.

  4. Your life may be gone yet your light shines on! I shall hand write a few letters to my children, mother, family and friends now Katie! Blessed be...