Last week, I got into one of my seasonal “zones” to organize outgrown clothing and other household items for donation or consignment. I try to be as ruthless as my sentimental self will allow me to be when I am going through the boxes and bins of our accumulated stuff. A couple of items gave me pause, however, and didn’t end up in the discard pile.
I had to push my old foot locker out of the way to make space for some Christmas ornaments, so I decided to take a break and open the locker to visit what was inside. I knew what was in there; there are various artifacts from my life starting at around age 10 up to when I was 29 or 30 years old. This time, instead of paging through old journals or photos, I was struck by the bundles of letters I’d buried in a bottom corner of the trunk.
From the late 1980s into the mid 1990s, one of the ways I communicated and grew into some of my most significant relationships was through letter writing. The people in my life cooperated and reciprocated since I had the evidence in my basement to prove it. I apparently couldn’t wait to read them: almost every single envelope was ripped open on the side in a jagged and happily-impatient fashion — no smooth and seamless letter opener for me.
I expected to find that the words would only corroborate everything I thought I knew about myself, the person who wrote to me, certain places or events, and our way of interacting. I love being surprised. There was so much more than that, because the contents of those letters — some written over 20 years ago — taught me something about the narrative of my life: how and why I am who I am today.
At some point around 1996, the letters went away. They went away because the world changed and we found crazy-fast ways to communicate (even with dial-up), but the lives of all of those letter writers changed, too. Mine included. I don’t think my children will know that old-school experience of unlocking a residence hall or apartment mailbox in anticipation of pulling out an envelope addressed by the hand of someone you love or once loved. Their lives will no doubt be documented on Facebook, YouTube and other future incarnations we can’t even dream of yet, but to me, it doesn’t feel the same as taking in your story from someone else who made the time to sit on a bed or at their desk and put pen to paper for an audience of one.
All of this has me in a letter writing state of mind. No emailing. No typing. I’m talking pen to paper (or notecard) with a handwritten address and return address on the front and a stamp in that top right hand corner. If you can identify with my state of swoon that comes when I rifle through the daily mail pile and find handwritten, personal correspondence, then I am going to make you an offer you can’t refuse.
Let me write to you. Seriously. Just inbox me (see — there’s a phrase that’s miles away from pen and paper writing: “inbox me”) and let me know you’d like me to drop you a line (firstname.lastname@example.org). I have boxes of a notecards and sheets of stamps that want to travel and your home is the perfect destination. Is there anything you’re dealing with right now where you want some words of encouragement, compassion or understanding? Tell me that, too, and you’ll get something even more special. It won’t be weird or “woo” — unless you specify that you’d like some written weird or woo. Or both. I’m good at this stuff. Hell, I even get paid for it sometimes (not in your case, though — this is on me).
So, what else caught my attention in the basement that day and didn’t end up in the discard pile? The first pairs of shoes that each of my babies wore. My 11 year old and 4 year old babies. Scruffy little shoes — no words, but lots of stories.