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…