Tuesday, June 24, 2008

my lost art

I have a friend in Ohio, Birdie, I've known literally since I was born. I don't remember living near her (we moved to Michigan when I was 13 months old) but after a trip to visit when I was around ten we started writing letters to each other. Long distance phone calls were too expensive for ten-year-olds, and email didn't even exist, so we wrote letters. I remember letters scribbled in pencil in spiral notebooks, ripped out with torn and ragged edges, folded in no particular way, and stuffed into an envelope. A stamp cost 25 cents.

Those days are burned into my memory. I'd put the stamped and addressed envelope into the mailbox and sit at the window waiting for the mailman to pick it up and put it in his big, blue bag. Then it was a waiting game. Starting the next day (okay, so I wasn't entirely rational) I'd check the mail as soon as it came, looking for a reply from Birdie. On the day I finally found a letter with my name on it I'd tear into it, read through it three or four times, and then run off searching for my spiral notebook and a sharp pencil.

In some ways my letter-writing has evolved. A stamp is 42 cents, for one thing. Somewhere along the way I adopted stationary and note cards. I make my own "fun" envelopes out of wrapping paper or magazine pages. I have many colored pens in several different cases, right where I know they are, instead of having to search for a pencil. I almost always put a sticker or two on the envelope. When I'm feeling particularly festive I sometimes put a pinch of confetti inside (people have learned the hard way to be careful when opening a note from me!). My handwriting is much more legible. Oh, and I'm paying for the stamps myself instead of digging through Mom's bill basket to find hers.

But some things haven't changed at all. I'm still obsessive about checking the mail. While I force myself to save the letter for last, opening the boring mail first, I still read a letter through several times as soon as it is opened...and then read it again an hour or so later. And, until about a year ago, I still wrote a reply within a day or two of receiving a letter from a friend.

And that's where my art is lost...or at least misplaced. When the Little Mister was born my outgoing mail, aside from a three-sentence note with a new picture of the bug here or there, dwindled from a rushing stream to a mere trickle. That's understandable: I was learning how to be a mom, getting to know my little boy, exploring Europe... Since the Sergeant left for the Middle East in April even the trickle has dried up. I write to him every night before I go to bed (yes, letters - you can't hold an email in your hand!), and I still hand-write thank-you notes (an issue for another post), but other than that...nothing. My brain is so frazzled from being a "single mom" that when the Little Mister goes to sleep all I want to do is sleep. Or possibly read blogs.

But I miss correspondence. I miss finding letters in the mailbox. Because, really, you have to write letters to get letters! Living so far away from all my friends, I miss seeing their handwriting on an envelope. I miss holding onto something they made just for me, something that has traveled across the ocean to find me.

So. My goal is to write a real letter to everyone in my address book (that's not as crazy as it sounds; while I keep old addresses in a different book, my current book is up-to-date) by the end of summer (the "real" end of summer, the autumnal equinox...gives me a little more time than saying Labor Day!). Can I do it? I don't know...but if I work on it I'll at least be writing again. I miss it.

Birdie and I are still friends, good friends, even though we've lived far apart since we were about my son's age (wow!). While I was in Michigan my mom talked to Birdie's mom, and found out that Birdie is having a rough time. And because I'd cut myself off, so to speak, I didn't know about it.

I think Birdie is first on my list.

Birdie, me, and Birdie's little sister
a camping trip, early 1990s


  1. I really miss getting letters in the mail. With cell phones and emails it seems that no one wants to write letters anymore. It's a lost art, I think.
    I'm glad you are starting it again. :)

  2. If you substitute "Chrissie" for Birdie, and age twelve for ten - you could be writing about me. Crissie moved away in 1976, and we wrote regularly until we graduated from high school. She got married shortly after, and I started partying in college.
    I too miss letters, and have been thinking as much every time I get my (letter-less) mail. It's been about three years since we even sent out Xmas cards, so this past February, I sent out letters to everyone in my address book. Granted, it was a letter I wrote on the word processor, and copied 50x, but still the response was great, though in the form of telephone calls and emails.
    I miss letters.

  3. what a great idea. I love letters and cards, we have a tupperware bin filled with all the letters and cards we have written too each other since we started dating. its amazing it follows boot camp, college, deployments, war, time apart, marriage, children, everything. emails, blogs, phone calls are great but letters are a personal thing that is almost more tangeable.

    koodos to you!

  4. What a great post!! I too miss the letters coming in the mail - I wrote a lot as a kid to grandparents and such. I had a boyfriend named Birdie.

    Have a great day - Kellan

  5. It is a lost art! It's extremely unusual to receive anything in the mail that is handwritten or even hand addressed these days!

    My great grandma and I, as well as my Grammy and I, used to communicate via letters. Great Grandma is no longer with us now and Grammy is easier to correspond with by phone now that her hands are arthritic. But I remember loving each letter they sent and reading it over and over!

    Ah... memories.

    Great post, Mama :)

  6. Oh you are a true writer! Not only is your blog beautifully written, but you are so passionate about written words. This was a lovely post.

    There's a site that I want to direct you to but I can't think of it right now and I'm in the middle of watching a good BBC program so I'll pass it on to you later.

    Until then, you can email me your address and I'll send you something in the post.

    zenzycat "at" gmail.com

  7. Yes, letter writing is a lost art and there really is nothing quite like getting a bona fide letter in the mail to savor and re-read. You know what is sad? I used to be a really good letter writer, but now when I sit down to put pen to paper, I have a hard time coming up with the words because I'm too used to email.

  8. I had a childhood friend like that, and we completely lost touch after college. I hope you do get back in touch with your friend. I'm sure she would love to hear from you.

  9. oh, we used to have a pop up trailer like that!

    i always love getting your fun envelopes, and Wow! how do you save the real letters for last? they are always the first thing I rip into!!

    And seriously, I just put something handwritten in the mail for you YESTERDAY. Not at all prompted by this post. but i think you'll find it helpful in keeping your resolution...


  10. omg, that's a great goal! I love writing and receiving letters but it is hard to remember to do and seems like so much work compared to email. The internet has ruined us :)

    I still get excited everytime the mail comes :)

  11. I miss mail correspondence also. And I love checking the mail. haha.

  12. I too love getting letters in the mail. It is always nice to open up the mailbox and see something besides bills.

  13. I often think email has killed the written word. Most people (me included) don't use real punctuation or grammer in emails. We are all so into instant gratification that emails are the easiest way to go. However, letter writing is so much more personal and I miss getting letters. I can't remember the last time I got personal correspondence in the mail (bills don't count).

    When I was in college, I would write home all the time to various family members and every afternoon I would approach my mailbox slowly - because if I rushed there would be nothing there - hoping beyond hope for something with handwriting on the outside. My mother's letters were the best! Some of them made me laugh so hard I would cry from laughing and then from missing her so much. I would read them over and over again for weeks. I still have them all and every time I move, I find the box with them and read them again.

    I will never forget one letter I got my freshman year. It was to both me and Mary Beth (she was a senior at the same college). I went to meet Mary Beth after her class with the letter - it couldn't wait til she got back. We sat on the steps of the building reading the letter out loud and laughing. It's one of my happiest memories, the two of us sitting there reading that letter.

    Good for you and I hope you meet your goal!

  14. Good luck writing to everyone in your address book! I am sure they will enjoy receiving a handwritten letter.

    And that picture of you and your friends makes me nostalgic for my big permed hair. Ah...I miss my big permed hair!

  15. Thanks for stopping by my blog and commenting. I'm so glad you did because I'm not sure I would have found your blog without it. This is a terrific post.

    I'm a letter-writer, too. Of sorts. My art has been going down ever since I had kids. I wonder if it will ever get better. I try to keep 2 or 3 on my regular list, but the rest? It just doesn't happen frequently.

    It's a noble endeavor, writing everyone before summer is over. But imagine what your mailbox is going to be like after that!

  16. Letters are lovely...once you get into the swing of things again, it won't be that hard to meet your goal.

    In the meantime, it is wonderful that you've been sending nightly letters to your husband.

    Great picture of Birdie. If she reads this blog, she'll be checking the mailbox frequently from now on...:)


  17. I had a penpal growing up. We wrote religiously for years and then? We just stopped. I tried to google her a while back but you'd be surprised how hard it is to find someone in England with only a 20 year old name and address.

    My sister's pen pal actually flew over from England for my sister's wedding!! We were hard core letter writers in my family.

    Now, I honestly don't mind a letter occasionally, but for the basic, everyday stuff? Not so much. It's outdated by the time it gets to the person who receives it. (by today's standards, anyway)

    I'm sure Birdie will be so happy to hear from you...

  18. I remember all the pen pals I had when I was young.

    There's just something about getting a letter in the mail that is still magical. I know that Birdie will be glad to hear from you.

    I love this post.

  19. I'll be your pen-pal!! I used to write letters, too. I remember going to my aunt's house and "designing" stationary on her computer, picking out a picture for the top of the paper and choosing a font to write my name in!! lol!

  20. I miss letters, too. I used to write lots, and just love to find them in my mailbox. I love your new goal--I've promised myself I will try and be a letter-writer again.