And then there’s the correspondence. After fifteen years, the writer is still as cute as her letter. Can’t throw this one away.
The Way I read a Letter’s — this —
‘Tis first — I lock the Door —
And push it with my fingers — next —
For transport it be sure —
And then I go the furthest off
To counteract a knock —
Then draw my little Letter forth
And slowly pick the lock —
Then — glancing narrow, at the Wall —
And narrow at the floor
For firm Conviction of a Mouse
Not exorcised before —
I’ve been trying to remember the last time I opened a real letter. Not a bill, not an invoice, not a request for donation, but a real letter from someone who knows me well, that begins with Dear Kathy, ends with Love, and has a middle meant just for me.
Oh, all right, I admit it–I never opened my mail behind a locked door, as Emily Dickinson does hers–but still, there was something delicious about those pieces of paper now called, with condescension, snail mail.
Opening a snail mail envelope was like opening a gift.
Sometimes it held two page on onionskin from my English pen pal, telling me about a rock concert she’d attended.
Sometimes it held fifteen pages from my cousin in California, a detailed narrative of the plot of a movie she’d seen on the late show.
Once it enclosed a card from my Aunt Betty, picturing a sad little dog and the caption, “I’m feeling dejected ’cause you was neglected,” and a note saying she’d planned to call and wish me happy birthday but had fallen asleep on the couch, and when she woke it was past both our bedtimes.
Most letters weren’t memorable; they contained news of school plays and shopping and chickenpox and report cards and last night’s overdone roast and church and swimming and Christmas caroling, just everyday life.
But they were special nonetheless, and it was the snail that made them so–traveling slowly, making us wait, and then, when hope was dwindling–surprise!— an envelope addressed in a familiar hand would fall out of messy handful of bills and circulars and slide across the concrete floor of the post office foyer.
Several years ago, I joined the Letter Writers Alliance, an organization “dedicated to preserving this art form; neither long lines, nor late deliveries, nor increasing postal rates will keep us from our mission.” I received a membership card and pledged to “carry on the glorious cultural tradition of letter writing.”
As a member, I’m supposed to take every opportunity to write letters. But I don’t. My penmanship isn’t what it used to be–too much time at the keyboard.
But I have good intentions. I buy pens and stationery to feed my habit. Who knows when I’ll loosen up and begin to correspond?
By the way, here’s what Emily does when she finally gets that envelope unlocked.
Peruse how infinite I am
To no one that You — know —
And sigh for lack of Heaven — but not
The Heaven God bestow —
It’s what we all do: We read how infinite we are to the writer–the person whose name is written beneath the word Love.
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I received the letter pictured below when I worked at Norma Krueger Elementary School’s Scharf Library. Crystal Walpole wrote asking what my favorite book was. She dropped the letter into her classroom’s mailbox. Krueger’s Wee Deliver postal service stamped and delivered it to the library.
At the time, Crystal’s address was 683 Cocker Spaniel Drive in Sporting Dog, Texas. The library’s was 123 Yorkshire Terrier Avenue in Terrierville, Texas.
And Crystal Walpole is one of my favorite writers.
The towns of Terrierville and Sporting Dog existed for a brief but happy time as part of Marion Independent School District in Marion, Texas.
“Do you remember when you learned to read, or like me, can you not even remember a time when you didn’t know how?” ~ Harper Lee, in a letter to Oprah Winfrey
I’m really not trying to rely on other bloggers for all my posts, but one this from Letters of Note is too good not to share. It isn’t what I expected it to be–it’s even better.
When I was teaching English, I arranged for students to have pen pals. I don’t remember the details–whether I required them to participate in the project or promised those who did extra credit. I might have simply offered to send names to an agency to be matched with potential correspondents.
I do remember why I did it. I wanted to show them that writing could be fun. I wanted them to see it as more than essays and research papers, to understand that it could build bridges and form bonds and open new worlds.
I also wanted them to write freely, without fear of judgment, so after getting them started, I withdrew from the project.
Last week I received an e-mail from K.M., one of those students. She told me she and her pen pal have been corresponding for twenty-eight years. He’s coming from Australia this month to meet her.
She said she’s thrilled and ended with, “Thank you!”
I’m thrilled, too. Consider: how many letters, how many words they’ve written; how much they’ve learned; how much they’ve shared; how much has changed since they stamped and mailed those first envelopes. They’ve gone from pen and paper to e-mail. They’ve moved from adolescence to adulthood. Twenty-eight years. My mind boggles just thinking about it.
But I don’t deserve thanks. I spent probably less than an hour on the project. I got things going.
K.M. and her pen pal did the rest. They took an exercise and made it real. The bridge, the bond, the new world–everything I wanted for them, they did.
So thank you, K.M., for writing, and for telling me the rest of the story.
That’s one of the finest gifts I’ve ever received.