My grandmother's voice rings out from a half century ago. "Ann, would you please bring in the mail?" I would hear those words often on my visits to her house, nestled in a copse of trees just two blocks from my home.
The box would sometimes be empty, but many times it held the delicate envelope of airmail, with its blue-and-red striped edging and promise of exotic locales. More commonly, there was the thick whiteness of a continuing conversation from the foreign outposts of Brooklyn, Queens, or Maryland.
"Grandma, a letter came!" I would smile and place it in her hand. She would hold it up, read the return address, handwritten in perfectly proportioned cursive, then exclaim with joy, "Oh my, it's from my sister-in-law Cora! Ann, you know Cora, she lives in Queens. My goodness, I haven't heard from her in weeks." She would pat the ottoman beside her and say, "Come sit here by me, I'll read it to you."
I would take my place beside Grandmother and watched as she laughed and cried; sat by her side as she gazed off, wandering about the Maryland farmlands she loved.
That is how it was when our world was smaller. Now, I open the mailbox and hope that a letter will arrive. Garish advertisements, bills, credit card offers await me. I wish to see my name handwritten in gracefully executed longhand.
I live in the house my grandparents built. It has changed and grown from the little cottage in the trees around the corner from my parents' home. I long to see the address I have known for so long be expressed in sweeping blue lines. I long for a connection, for the memories, for the joy of exclaiming, "Look, a letter from my friend."
I open my email account and see that I have achieved the milestone of 100 unread messages. I glance through the sender lines and cringe at the unrecognizable; curse myself for giving my address to store clerks, and laugh at the thought that hoarding doesn't only apply to houses. I seek out the familiar names and shake my head in disappointment at the "Fwd" abbreviation that usually appears in the subject line.
It is easy to share with a list of hundreds. Rare is the message meant only for you. I find the few emails that seem to offer hope of a personal note or the interesting subject line that seems to have emanated from a human source.
These I open, read the terse lines, abbreviated words, incomplete sentences that reveal the senders are busy and unable to completely develop their thoughts. Oh well, I am also guilty of this language abuse. I can only dream of the day when a fully formed letter will miraculously appear in my inbox or on my doorstep.
I asked my daughter, "Have you received any letters recently?" She laughed. "I get mail all the time. Why do you ask?"
"No, I mean an actual letter, handwritten from someone you know?" She thought about it a few minutes, then sadly shook her head with the realization of what I was getting at. "We did a letter-writing project in fourth grade, some postcards from friends. No. No real letters, not for a very long time."
My heart sank, if my daughter, brought up in a house full of literature and music, has not received a letter, what of the rest of the world? Who will carry on this tradition? Our world is so instantaneous, so filled with emoticons that we no longer need to put our thoughts and emotions on paper. Gone, the shaking-hand penmanship of a family tragedy, the lipstick-kiss sealed envelope, the love offered in a note sprayed with perfume.
Text messages can be misinterpreted, smiley faces or cartoonish pictures of palm trees have replaced the gorgeous language of description.
When did we lose the art of letter-writing? The hesitant starts and stops between words have disappeared. The descriptions of family antics, the cross outs, the smudges of tears on paper, heart-dotted i's, X's and O's are lost. When did we lose the time to walk to the corner mailbox, our gift held gently in our hand? Our thoughts, penned gently onto paper, traveled by hand, by truck, by foot to arrive, a jewel found in the midst of the mundane.
Ann C. Kenna,
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