By Marilyn Jones
Eurilla Woods sits in a common room at Golden Living Center in Arab. Surrounded by tables festively decorated for the holidays, the 93-year-old rereads a letter she received from a friend.
“I love getting cards and letters from family; or anybody,” she says, smiling. “Not only do I get to catch up on everyone’s news, but it makes me know they are thinking of me even if they can’t visit.”
This time of year, more than any other time, people write letters to include with their Christmas and holiday cards — but, what about the rest of the year? Sure, many of us seem tied to our computers and handheld devices. We e-mail and text and instant message, but when was the last time you sat down and wrote a letter or addressed a greeting card?
I know what you’re thinking. It’s so much easier to shoot off an e-mail or text message or even make a phone call than it is to send a card or letter. Exactly; to send correspondence through the mail takes a little effort — the sender takes the time to pick out a card, share their personal news, address the envelope, buy stamps and mail it — it’s personal.
At the end of the work day, going home and checking e-mail might not be high on your priority list, but according to the Postal Service, 98 percent of Americans check to see if they got any mail. Finding a personal note or letter among the magazines and pizza coupons is always a pleasant surprise. And a letter can be enjoyed over and over again.
For Leslee Scott of Somerville, reading a letter from her grandfather to her grandmother is a gift from the past.
"I never met my grandparents. These letters and stories I've read are all I know of them,” she said holding one marked V.J. Day (Victory over Japan) and dated August 15, 1945, Paris France. “It is through these letters I learned of the great love my grandparents had for each other and how difficult their time apart during the war was for them. Without the letters, I would have never known.
“Dearest Darling Little Wife and baby,” Scott read from the now 67-year-old letter. “Just received your sweet letter and honey I am so happy. If I make a mistake, don't blame me. I waited until 12 o'clock last night to hear the good news and it came at one. And baby, am I happy. Yes Darling I am really glad it's over. I only got a scratch out of this war, but I'll never forget it and I am thankful Darling I came out alive. Darling you don't know what this really means to me just to think I'll get to come home soon and be in my Darling's arms once more. That will be the happiest day in my life.
“I'll be so glad when I get on the boat home,” the letter continued. “I don't know what to do. Won't that be grand?”
Letters can be a window into history; they can also be a window into the heart. Just think of the many books written about our forefathers that rely heavily on personal correspondence like John Adams by David McCullough and Benjamin Franklin: An American Life by Walter Isaacson.
For 10-year-old Emily Browning of Lacey’s Spring, letters are a way to connect with her father, Army Chaplin Richard Browning, who has been deployed in Afghanistan for the past year.
When asked what she did when she first read the card she's holding she replies, "It made me smile.
"He doesn't tell me about what he’s doing, but the card let me know he was safe," she said as she clutched a pink stuffed camel wearing an Army desert hat and emblazoned with the words, "I miss you” — a gift from her dad.
In The Art of Correspondence: Letter Writing 101, Mary Mitchell writes, "Not one modern communications marvel can replace a letter. It is more than a communication. It is a gift. A letter can have special powers. It can be more intimate and touching than even a conversation. It can be more personal than any telephone call."
Convinced that there is power in a letter; in the written word? Well, it’s easy to become a letter writer and card sender.
First get yourself an address book with room to make changes. This may be the hardest part of the process. Many people only correspond electronically or on the phone and don’t have street addresses for their friends. Send them an e-mail and ask for it. Then jot it down.
Next, pay a visit to the card aisle at your local department or grocery store. Buy specific cards or generic ones that can be sent to, say, any woman or man or friend. Now you’re ready when Facebook, for example, notifies you it’s one of your friends’ birthdays. Instead of sending a quick online message, send them a birthday card — a real birthday card.
During the holidays how many times have you gotten an e-card? How are you supposed to display that? This year, send colorful, meaningful, joyful cards and reap the rewards of having your own mailbox fill up with greeting cards.
And you’ll need stamps. The easiest way to buy stamps is online at usps.com. You can choose the design and the quantity and have them mailed to you. No matter how many or how few, the handling charge is only $1.25. This year the Postal Service introduced two new holiday stamps — Holy Family, and Santa and Sleigh.
The key to letter writing is to just say what you'd say if you were talking face to face. A letter doesn't have to be a masterpiece. Just a thinking of you card with a few lines saying you and your family are fine is all it takes to start a string of correspondence with someone you'd like to reconnect with.
Cards and letters simply get more attention than electronic correspondence.
Make someone’s day — send a little love through the mail.
Marilyn Jones is a retired writer/editor for the Postal Service and has been a published journalist for more than 30 years. She is currently a freelance feature writer specializing in travel. Her articles have appeared in major newspapers including the Boston Globe, Akron Beacon Journal and Chicago Sun-Timesas well as regional magazines.