November 22, 2006

Old Letters

Since I was in elementary school, I've never thrown out a letter. It didn't matter what it said, who it was from, or how long it was, all my letters were carefully saved in boxes, bags, rubber bands or files. Over the years I've accumulated quite a stash of mail. One of my goals this week at my parents' house was to go through all of my boxes of saved memorabilia and sort out what I want to save and what can simply be caressed and trashed. I had the strange opportunity to re-read every letter I've ever gotten.

It was a shock, really. I'd forgotten how rich the art of letter writing was since email has slowly taken over as the major form of communication. There have been a few people who have written regular, long letters to me ever since we've been friends and I'm happy to say most of them have either joined me in the blogging world or still email me. Once a communicator, always a communicator.

The most important thing about the letter was the envelope which I always saved as well. There is no duplicating this in our tech-savy world. Here is the opening page to the letter and not only could you choose how to address the person, but the options of decoration and packaging were wide open. Reading a letter already without first being able pause and contemplate the sender, what they could have possibly written and what was inside is like skipping to the climactic event of a movie without all the critical build up. You lose a lot.

One of the envelopes I came across shamed me. It was on a plain white envelope, had no return address, and my name was written in handwriting I hadn't seen in over 10 years, but I knew this was one letter I could not open. I couldn't throw it out either. Maybe someday I'll be able to confront the words that were written, and move on. I was surprised by the power that letter had to humble me even now.

Not only did I save letters, but I saved notes passed in school, love notes, certificates, doodles and all the little stories I wrote for fun to my friends. A little note from a tow truck guy written on the back of an invoice telling me that "my tow" would be really happy if I would call him up some time. Some old love poems from a high school romance. A post-it-note from my college dorm mate reminding me to put my laundry out to be picked up. (I always forgot!) A short story to my friend about the terrible and unavoidable result of having the bottom of my foot itch in class. There was also a surprising amount of letters that I had written to people that were never mailed. One of my friends, Shannon, was a world traveler and I would always write her long letters but not know where to send them so there are piles of letters from myself in unstamped envelopes.

It was a tremendously powerful experience to touch all these old papers again. My goal was to only pull out the ones that were truly meaningful and worthy to be kept for posterity. I succeeded in weeding out about half of them, but there are still vast amounts of letters that I could never bear to lose which will make me smile even on the darkest day. The age of the letter is over. I will never have such a wealth of handwritten letters from family and friends. All the open ended questions that were never answered, the various mailing addresses that document ages and stages and mostly, the envelopes. How I love the envelopes! Since it's the season for thanks, I want to thank everyone who has ever sat down at a clear desk, picked out appropriate stationary, stickers, pen color and inserts to put together a real for real letter to me. It fell into good hands and there's no telling how long I'll hang on to it to remind me of true friendship. Thank you.

This post was submitted on August 21, 2007 to Scribbit's Write-Away contest for the topic of "Collections."


Kibler said...

I thought you don't post on vacation! Im glad you did, I enjoyed it very much. I love envelopes too! hugs, Kibler

s'mee said...

I love a hand written note or letter! I admit to using the computer now, but there isn't anything quite like snail mail!

I had a student of mine, young and enthusiastic, go off to her adventures after high school; she always wrote letters. I knew her letter the minute I saw it. Always written on an odd piece of paper, a napkin from a hotel or restaraunt, a shopping bag, or the back of reciepts stapled together. Her envelopes were just as creative. I LOVE her letters because the writing was just as colourful and unique as her choice of stationery. Never the mundane "this is what I did today" but more this is what I felt as I walked through...., or this is the texture of this city...." Very cool.

Thanks for the post, I love it!

Suzie Petunia said...

That is amazing that you save them all. They are treasures, and almost extinct!

Adrienne said...

Would you believe that I have a stack of notes you passed me in various classes from nigh on a decade ago? I think I may have a draft of the itchy foot story... I KNOW it's illustrated (good details on the severed tendons, 17-year-old Sarah.) I think there's also one about a guy who wanted to be a cabbage? Hee hee.

Hope you and the fam have a faboo Thanksgiving! It's 6:11am and 29 degrees in Bloomington, IN and I have to go run a 5k. I think my brain is diseased.

Anonymous said...

I have letter from my Grandmother. I cherish them. I also have the last voice mail she left on my cell before she died. It's awesome to really hear her voice. I'll be in your town tomorrow! Not too much of a holiday commute. Happy ThanksGiving Day!

kaff said...

I liked to make envelopes out of magazine ads. They make some very interesting and fun envelopes. My favorite part of school notes were the cool ways they were folded.

Anonymous said...

I've done the same thing, Sar! Good to know I'm in great company. Hmm...maybe when the term's over I can drop you a note to add to the collection.

Scribbit said...

A little late posting my comment, but oh well :)

Thanks for entering this, there's something about old letters, I agree.