I used to be notorious in my family for my lengthy handwritten letters. It started when I was in high school and I had a pen pal in Germany (if I recall correctly, her name was Bettine), and we exchanged air mail letters in German. When I got to college, I wrote to my folks and my sisters and Cousin Shane and other cousins. It was always an exciting thing to stop at the desk of Mysch Hall and get my mail and know that someone was thinking of me while I was away at school. On one memorable occasion, my Mom even sent me a canister full of hush puppies, reminding me of our fish fries in Georgia and Florida! During the summers in Georgia between my college years, I wrote long letters to the aforementioned cousins, as well as friends from college.
After college, I continued to write to my family and friends, but it wasn't until I was on my own after my divorce that I really kicked it in to overdrive. I wrote letters of normal length to my parents and others, but I wrote long, rambling letters to a few people who truly seemed to enjoy them, mostly Cousin Shane and my sister Diana. I found that for my really long letters, small stationery pages weren't adequate, so I kept a three-ring binder with loose-leaf paper for when I wanted to do some serious writing. I would often write a letter over a week or so, resulting in a 25-30 page letter that needed extra postage. I would draw pictures and diagrams, and a frequent comment I got was, "When I read your letters, I feel like I'm talking to you!"
For those of you that have been reading this journal for a while, I know it's hard to imagine that I could ever write that much! <snort> Well, some things never change.
What I find sad is that the art of letter-writing is essentially gone. As much as I loved doing it--and I still hand-wrote 2-3 page letters up until a couple of years ago, to Ken's Mom--my hands and wrists simply refused to continue the tradition. While my profession, with its constant pipetting and repetitive motion, had much to do with it, I realize that those long letters I wrote years ago also took their toll on my hand and wrist health. I find it ironic that something so enjoyable to myself and others would keep me from writing such letters today.
Email has definitely made it easier to keep in touch with others, but I also think that it's meant a huge loss in terms of the beauty of handwritten letters (not to mention handwriting). Seeing an old, yellowed, beautifully handwritten letter gives a sense of presence and humanity that no computer printout can ever give. I look at the letters that my Dad sent from overseas during WWII, and I love seeing his familiar handwriting, set to paper 20 years before I was born. My handwriting is somewhat similar to my Dad's, and my sisters and I all share an eerily similar half-writing/half-printing style. For some reason, none of us inherited my Mom's ladylike script.
The joy of receiving a letter in the mail is, to all intents and purposes, a thing of the past. We still receive handwritten notes from Ken's Mom, because a computer is not and never will be in her future. My letters to her now are composed on the computer and printed out, because I still tend to write long letters, and 4 printed pages would translate to a good 8 or so handwritten pages. She understands and says that she just enjoys the letters, and to keep 'em coming. I still enjoy writing thank you notes and other small notes by hand, but my days of long, long handwritten letters are behind me.
As I sit here at the computer wearing my wrist brace on my right hand, I mourn the loss of the long letter from a friend or other loved one...opening the mailbox and seeing a handwritten envelope and knowing that it's not a bill or charity solicitation, it's a personal letter...sitting down and reading the letter that someone took the time to write out to you and seeing the nuances and beauty of their handwriting. I also mourn the loss of my ability to write such letters, because I know exactly how much they mean and what a treasure they are. We can save computer printouts of letters we've received, but they don't hold a candle to those letters we save that contain the handwriting of our loved ones. That is something special, and something that we have almost lost.
Here's to the handwritten letter. You are missed, my friend.