Stacks and Stacks of Letters

by Taffy Cannon

 

I don’t remember the first mail I ever received, but I do recall being fascinated by the concept from an early age, when a first class letter carried a purple stamp showing either Thomas Jefferson or Lady Liberty with her torch held high.

What an amazing thing! Somebody in one place sat down with a pen and paper, then folded that paper into an envelope, which somehow was magically transported to the person you wanted to reach, even clear across the country. I knew this worked because I lived in Chicago and my godparents were in Los Angeles, approximately a million miles away.

By the time the rate went up to four cents and a magenta Abe Lincoln, I was sending away for booklets and corresponding with my first pen pals.  Mostly I sent for cookbooklets, cleaning pamphlets (yes, really!), and information on growing up and liking it.  All kinds of freebies were offered on the sides of boxes and often led down a slippery slope to even more pamphlets on the stunning versatility of floor wax.  I made these requests very systematically, and to this day am baffled by a map of Alaska which arrived unrequested during this period.  Who sent it to me?  Why?

 I began extensive correspondence with a number of people in my teens, and started making carbons at some point in my twenties when I realized I was not the kind of writer who was ever going to keep a journal and that this was the closest I was likely to get to a record of my life.  I’ve never gone back through that outgoing mail and may never, but I like knowing it’s there.

Similarly,  I’ve kept most of the letters received as an adult, though for me the advent of email really spelled the end of that form of correspondence.  I can send a personal email as easily as write and print a letter, and it will be delivered the moment I push Send.  People say that email is sloppier and too casual, but that’s only true if the writer is sloppy and too casual. I also love being able to keep up with a lot of people simultaneously on Internet lists or Facebook.  I may not get anything but bills and magazines and garden catalogues when my postman comes by, but if I receive an email that I’d like to hang on to, I can push Print

I do still savor my letters from yesteryear.  I regret not holding on to the ones my mother sent almost daily while I was away in college – funny, info-filled epistles typed on her Remington manual typewriter.  Why bother?  There were so many of them, and besides, she’d be around forever.  Except that she wasn’t.

I started thinking about letters when the postal rates recently went up to 45 cents and nobody seemed to know or care exactly when it was happening.  At the same time, the Postal Service started talk of closing down facilities.  A friend on an Internet list who lives near one of the scheduled-closing hubs is very dependent on the USPS and would be seriously inconvenienced by this.  She suggested that each of us on the list send three snail mail items to the next three folks on our alphabetical address list.

Simple as can be.  It wasn’t going to solve any government financial problems, of course, or keep that hub open.  But symbolic gestures can also be fun.

And it has been.  I sent out my three letters (cards, actually) and so far have received one, which I wasn’t even expecting since this friend didn’t fit the group mailing protocol.

 In the background as I opened it, I could hear Perry Como crooning:

            Letters, we get letters

            We get stacks and stacks of letters…

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7 Responses

  1. You got me with that Perry Como pic!

    I still love to send and receive snail mail, including ~300 holiday cards, and certainly hope our post office survives.

  2. What a great nostalgia trip! I bet you had fun collecting those illos (the bossy spellchecker wants to make that ills).

    I love getting and sending mail, but I’m as guilty as anyone for now relying on cyberspace, even for holiday cards recently. However, I’ve sent many many books at what used to be 4th cl special rate, now media mail. Also postcards, press kits, brochures, etc. I even had a mass mailing permit for the latter. During the 80s I felt like I was singlehandedly supporting the PO. Maybe they fell on hard times when I stopped sending out books myself!

    It’s still a thrill to see a hand-addressed envelope in the mail box.

  3. Further thoughts, not so positive on the PO. It stopped being fun to mail things when everything over 13 oz had to be handed over the counter after standing in line. Thanks to the Unabomber (still!). I used to drive large book cartons up to the back door and they’d take them and bill me later.

    Also not fun after the PO’s makeover to a full-service store, and now they ask many questions for each package (anything liquid fragile hazardous, do you want a receipt special handling insurance, etc etc etc). I’m often tempted to tell them I don’t want fries w/ that either.

    And one memorable time a customer “went postal” when I told her the PO wasn’t a boutique– when she kept a long line waiting for half an hour while she choose various decorated envelopes and had the clerk tape up her packages.

  4. You’re certainly right, Merry, about the postal service not being nearly as pleasant as it used to be. We are fortunate to have had the same carrier for the entire 22 years we’ve lived here and bereft at his impending retirement. Once shortly after we’d moved here, I was dropping off a bulk mailing in the back of the PO when he came across the lot to tell me I had a package, and did I want it now or should he just deliver it.

  5. When my sixth-grade class organized a camping week, we had to make all the plans and order all the supplies, etc. etc. until I wanted to scream. (That school’s idea of “learn by doing” involved way too much list making.) One good idea someone had was that all of us kids would write to our parents from camp and ask them to write back to us. That was back when letters traveled fast enough to make that possible, of course.

    I wrote my required note and asked my father to write me a really long letter back. So he did. He typed it on adding machine paper, at most two or three words per double-spaced line, and used a whole roll of paper! I basked in its glory.

    Sara

  6. A nostalgic piece, Taffy, I love it. I recall some of those early stamps, even on rejection letters. Here in Vermont a beloved and prolific nature writer, Ron Rood, kept a PO going in his small village with virtually his mailings alone! When he died it closed down and people had to go to a larger town to send and receive. And yes, now I mostly use the send and receive on my computer. ‘Progress’ isn’t always the most fun, whereas the PO can be a meeting place for oral communication as well as written.

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