Handwritten notes in a digital
Listen Option #1
Listen Option #2
We're to the part where we're writing thank-you notes to everyone who sent
flowers, offered service or brought food to my sister's family because of her
husband's death. Having to look up the snail mail addresses has reminded me that
it has been at least seven or eight years since I wrote a note by hand to
anyone, except on packages at Christmas or someone's birthday. However, in the
past few years, I've ordered birthday presents online because the shipping is
usually free; so my cards have been imprinted by the same computer that creates
the shipping label. Paychecks are direct-deposit. Electronic bill paying and
email is so popular, we hardly ever need to purchase a stamp. But I think for me
this is going to change.
Each of my grandchildren needs to feel the excitement of receiving snail mail
addressed to him or her personally. Remember how important you felt when you
received a letter as a child? Everyone else got mail, and finally it was your
turn. There is something wonderfully tactile about holding the envelope and
tracing your fingers around the stamp affixed slightly crooked in the upper
right corner. There were always the question "I wonder who it's from?" for in
those days we wrote the return address on the back of the envelope. Instead of
just turning over the envelope, we'd try to make out the town and state from the
imprint of the postal cancellation to determine where the letter was mailed.
Geesh, those were once hand stamped by the postmaster. Remember?
Then there were the all-important discussions involving "...wonder what has
happened?" That part always makes me smile, because people did tend to speculate
for a minute or two and I don't know why. It is a simple matter just to open the
envelope and read the letter to find out. But it seems a mini-discussion of the
possible news is part of the ritual. This gives everyone around you the chance
to theorize and practice deductive reasoning. It also gives them a chance to
share what they know about the family news of late. "I wonder if Dad is doing
better. I wonder if John got that new job. Maybe Mary has finished nursing
school. -- Nope, I think that she still has another year to go." Isn't that a
funny thing? Just open the letter and find out!
At this point the person with the power is the recipient. He and only he can
bring this discussion to a close by actually opening the envelope. You can
almost hear the drum rolls.
There are several methods for opening envelopes. Perhaps the easiest is the
thumb or pointer finger approach where you get under a loose corner of the
envelope flap, and pry it open to retrieve the contents. That method was long
ago improved upon by the invention of a dull-bladed knife known as a "letter
opener." They used to come in sets with inkwells and quill pen holders,
something else my grandchildren have probably never seen.
Alternately there are those who take a more high-tech approach, by tapping the
envelope on one of the short sides to hopefully shift the contents before using
a small hand-held or electric letter opener designed to slice off an eighth of
an inch of the opposite end. Then one would gently squeeze the envelope to open
that end by holding it between the thumb and fingers on the long sides. For some
reason, a few folks also gently blow into that open end before using the other
hand to pull the letter out. I know of no earthly reason for blowing into the
envelope. Again, it must just be a ritual thing.
Some recipients of snail mail read silently, giggling in the appropriate spots
and eventually looking up to say "that's wonderful" or "I am so glad." In polite
company, this is actually unkind, because it only serves to heighten the
suspense, since the gathered crowd has simply no idea what they are to be glad
about. There are the fainting readers, the swooning readers, the sobbers and the
clutchers. That last group is particularly problematic when they've received bad
news -- they clutch the letter to their heart and no amount of prying will
release the letter (or the information) to those around.
Once we do get a peek at the letter, we most likely
find it isn't just a matter of words on a page. You can tell a lot about the
writer without being a professional handwriting expert. You know at a glance the
ornate swirls are from Grandma Frances, who always makes her "Ts" and "Ps" that
way. You can just see how Grandpa's hand has been shaking more lately as his
letters wiggle across the page. Some folks write straight across the page
without benefit of lined paper, while others pen sentences that slant down as
they get closer to the right edge. And speaking of borders, there are those who
sign their letters and then think of something else, so they turn the paper
sideways and write up the margin, across the top and sometimes down the opposite
side in teeny tiny letters. Some people sign their letters with hearts dotting
each "i" or draw flowers or birds in the unused portion of the page
below the signature. On thank-you notes, where there isn't much to say, the
sender might chose to use inordinately large letters to fill up the page. The
texture and color of paper can vary depending on the preferences of the writer.
There may be a hint of perfume added for sentimental reasons. Overseas letters
used to come with very thin "air mail" paper that folded to become the envelope
But somehow, eventually the news gets out. In fact
within the week, nearly anyone in town might say "Heard you got a letter from
Frank." Of course that was when we lived on farms or in small-towns and the
postmaster knew everyone personally. Now we're a global community accustomed to
split-second "instant messaging" and electronic mail. But is this really an
improvement in communication? You can't clutch your computer monitor to your
chest and sigh in anguish if need be. I am not too sure that we shouldn't return
to handwritten notes for more than special occasions.
All double negatives aside, I think the special people in our lives, like my
precious grandchildren, deserve our hand-written attention and care. It really
says something -- but they'll have to open the envelope to find out what.
Happy family tree climbing!
6023 26th Street West PMB 352
Bradenton, FL 34207