I’ve been wanting to write on paper more.
The diary that I’ve kept, off and on for years, doesn’t really count because mostly I just complain about annoyances and perceived injustices, like when I have to go to two grocery stores to find the flavor of ice cream I’ve been craving.
So, I decided to start with mail. Paper correspondence, always rare nowadays and usually unexpected, gives me a little thrill when I see it among unwanted catalogs and bills. The more computerized and digital my communications have become, the more delighted I am when someone sends me mail, especially if it’s handwritten.
In the first couple months of 2013, I responded to a Christmas card; replied to an end-of-year letter; wrote to friends I had lost touch with; sent a card with a pen that didn’t work to The Stinker, an erstwhile pen-pal; and composed a thinking-of-you sympathy note on hand-printed stock that came with a homemade journal purchased in Portland years ago. The journal is long since filled with my complaints and grievances, but I had kept the card, waiting for the right recipient.
After sending all of these, something odd happened one evening at my mailbox.
My heart pounded a little bit more when I saw the envelope, addressed to me in messy capital letters. Even though there was no return address, in a few seconds I was certain I knew whom it was from: someone I would have been at least a little bit happy to hear from in any circumstances, and could be very happy if he were saying the right things.
Inside, I ripped the envelope open. This is what it contained:
- St. Jude’s Hospital purple notepad
- small pamphlet from Verizon Wireless entitled “Consumer Information about Radio Frequency Emissions and Responsible Driving”
- torn-off flyer with information on Target’s pet pharmacy on one side and Cottonelle toilet paper on the other
- insert from Money Mailer for a local natural health store, with the name of the proprietor underlined in blue ink.
I examined the postmark, the handwriting. I turned the envelope upside down and shook it. I repeatedly flipped through the notepad, which remained blank every time. Other than the underlining, and my address, nothing was handwritten, and this mail contained no other greeting.
Was the sender the person I initially thought, playing mail games? A mystery!
I knew it wasn’t The Stinker, who was states away from the local postmark, and in any case would have delighted in writing out his proper name in the return address and certainly would have included a droll note. He did not send this. I asked him anyway, and he replied, “No, I didn’t but those are great treasures.”
Just for elimination’s sake, I asked another friend in the zip code, who mails a card on every occasion Hallmark makes cards for. Her handwriting is big and loopy calligraphy, and I’ve never known her to play correspondence games. I asked her if she mailed me a St. Jude’s notepad. She replied, a bit cagily, that it sounded like I was on the mailing list of the natural health food store, that she gets their mailers all the time.
Since I had never mentioned the health food store flyer to her, I considered the case solved, if a bit anti-climactically and ever-so-disappointingly. I threw all of the paper away, except the notepad, which sits on top of my refrigerator to record things like “milk” and “dryer sheets” or “don’t forget to turn the thermostat down!”
A couple days later, I was at my grandfather’s when he said, “Let me show you some interesting mail I’ve been getting.”
The first was a short card from a total stranger, whose postmark indicated she lives in New England. She described how she had picked his name at random and just wanted to send some good wishes, and then wrote several things about God and Jesus. It was overall a nice gesture, though as I was reading it he was shaking his head and laughing at how strange some people are.
The last was a birthday card, thanking him for the bravery and honor of his generation and signed by the President and First Lady. I had forgotten that back in January I had sent a request to the White House to send birthday greetings to my grandfather, a veteran of three wars who will be turning 90 in May. I never said anything to him because I wasn’t even sure if it would happen: the websites seem to indicate these mailings from the White House can take forever. When it arrived, in March, he was perplexed: how did they know it was his birthday and that he was military? I showed him the letter I sent, and he was pleased as he read my request.
After a few minutes of looking over my letter, he pointed to one sentence and said, “I’m not critiquing – don’t misunderstand me – but here you could have said ‘retired’ and not ‘veteran.’” Then he suggested a better way to re-order the sentence, and concluded good-naturedly, “But it’s very nice, all the same.”
“Veteran,” for him I think, evokes images of long-haired hippies wearing army jackets and protesting about Vietnam. “Well, I put ‘retired’ here – they know you’re a retired Marine.”
He seemed more assured by that and then said it was technically right: “I’m both.”
He remarked that the direction was hand-addressed to him. It was in neat cursive, and I was impressed. And grateful – for writing and mail … and paper.