If I could write I’d set all the words free to follow you

I slept better last night, only waking up when Mike came to bed and said, “Wake won!” I might have said, “Good,” or I might have just gone back to sleep. I have no idea.

So far this morning, my coworker and I have swapped vomit stories (my entire small group has some kind of stomach virus, but Mike and I seem to have miraculously escaped) and talked about how much more joyful mail was when we were children. When I was a little girl, my grandma would send me a card almost every week. I look back and think, “You know, those cards weren’t very interesting,” but they meant a lot anyway. She’d tell me things like, “I gave the calves their bottles today,” and what she made for lunch and what was growing in the garden and what the weather was like when she put the laundry on the clothesline. I still have some of those letters, and despite their lack of content, I still treasure them. I loved the calves, you see, so I wanted to know how they were doing. And I liked helping in the garden with the planting and the picking. And Grandma’s food is the best food of all.

Mail also brought books from Great-aunt Margaret, who was friends with E.B. White and would send me things like my treasured copy of Charlotte’s Web. The note that came with that told me how special I was to her, and how much she wanted to share one of her favorite books with me. One time my Aunt Nancy had to mail my favorite stuffed animal to me after I left it at her house. I remember checking the mail every day, being so afraid that Diney would get lost. He arrived safe and sound, with a note explaining all his adventures. He had missed me, it said, but he enjoyed meeting new friends at my cousin’s house. Diney’s handwriting was suspiciously like Aunt Nancy’s, but I didn’t mind so much.

I used to write a lot of letters, too. You see, kids, I grew up in the days before email, and my closest friends lived long-distance (this was also before the prominence of cell phones), so I couldn’t afford to call very often. I had to write letters. After we moved from Charlotte, I wrote to my friend Kim all the time (who just got back from a stint in Turkmenistan with the Peace Corps and who I am going to see tomorrow). In high school, I wrote to many of my friends I met at Governor’s School. Now I just send lots of email. (And thank-you notes. I do send thank-you notes.) I still enjoy sending letters, but when I do, I invariably talk to the person before they actually get the card or note, and then there’s that awkwardness of, “Do I address what I talked about in the card?”

I don’t have kids yet, but if I ever do, and then become a grandmother one day, I hope I remember how special Grandma’s letters were to me. I learned how to write letters and cards from my Grandma. I try to remember that now when I send an occasional note to my niece. Letter-writing, to me, is about the wonder of the mundane. It’s about letting people know how important they are to you, and about having something to open that’s not just a bill or a church newsletter. It’s a dying art, they say, which is a shame, but I don’t think it’s completely gone yet.

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