Wednesday, March 08, 2006


Do you know what a personal letter is? It comes through the Post Office in a square and flat little packet. On the outside you will find carefully scripted in pen and ink your name and address. One would think that a standard and insignificant thing, but that alone validates the need for my existence to be acknowledged. And that’s the first thing a personal letter does that cannot be duplicated by electronic mail or the flawless form of other letters with printed labels.

Personal letters are unique. They have the gentle scent or pheromones of the sender – letters from my trapper friend have a more distinctive odor – of weasel, fox, or some such thing. Some have soft ripples from the effects of travel through sleet or snow. Some have finger smudges or ink stains. Others, though fresh and clean, have the worn or slightly wearied look of care and preparation. An envelope selected, held, folded, sealed, stamped, carried in purse or hand, and eventually shoved into a mail-slot. All subtle distinctions of a purely personal nature that are never evident in junk or bulk mail.

The contents are much anticipated. Like a surprise gift. I’m giddy with joy when I get a P.L. and I never move an inch from the Post Office without ripping open that letter and quickly scanning it. Odd, because I have no problem ignoring a ringing phone or stacked up e-mail. But I can’t suspend my anticipation when it comes to personal letters. Later at home, I will pour myself a coffee, and sit down and read it again. For the pure pleasure that it gives.

The salutation is exciting. “Dear Roberta.” It’s like having my name in lights. Like an audience standing and applauding. I honor personal letters because personal letters honor me. There is nothing generic about a personal letter. Personal letters are limited editions – the real deal – the highest quality of affection and connection.

I haven’t received one for a while but today I got a personal letter. And the simple act of opening that letter carried me back to many letters over the years. How surprised was my trapper friend to find out last winter that I still had letters he had written to me more than twenty years ago? Too funny, too endearing, too unique, and too precious to be discarded. We reviewed them together and laughed heartily over their contents.

Hub’s Mom used to send me letters. She didn’t visit often, but when she did, three or four days later I would get a wee card in the mail. Always it would reaffirm what she enjoyed most during her visit – our walk in the garden, time spent in the greenhouse, afternoon tea, the sandwiches or the special meal that we shared.

And when it comes to personal letters from old flames, though they are brittle and yellow with age, I still have a few stashed away. If you can’t get a boyfriend to confess his love, believe me, the next best thing is the smugness of knowing they sat down with a pen and dedicated a piece of their life to only thoughts of you.

But now I fear that personal letters will soon be extinct. And no I don’t work for Canada Post. This has nothing to do with them even though what I want you to do by way of protest is to sit down and write a personal letter to one of the most important people in your life. And that just might be a young child of your own or a niece or nephew.

The reason I want you to do this is because, to a child, a P.O. delivered letter is Harry Potter wizardry. My 7-year-old granddaughter will confirm that there’s magic in a small envelope travelling alone, coming through and past all the crowd of strangers, the curious and envious public in the greater world, to land at her door. Magic that confirms a little person’s big importance.

But more importantly, sending a personal letter will ensure that one more person of this current generation will not grow old with the ‘joyless gap’ in their existence of having never opened, sniffed, and perused, with such personal satisfaction, the sweet affection and connection of an unexpected personal P.O.-delivered letter.


Blogger Eleanor said...

Since you've been a regular visitor to my blog for a long time, you'll know that I'm a dedicated personal letter writer...and joyful receiver. Some are just notes, but most are lengthy "conversations". I've been writing letters since I was old enough to print a few lines in childish hand, and intend to keep on writing for as long as I can hold a pen!

E-mail is fine for a quick hello, or for passing on info that can't wait for the length of time it takes to exchange letters. But otherwise I'm not a fan, not in the least. I really, really have to force myself to answer e-mail, whereas I can't wait to sit down, pick up a pen, and start on a reply to a letter.

You're so right about children loving mail. It only takes a few minutes to pen a note to a child, but that small investment of time reaps such a huge reward. I rarely see my nieces and nephews because they live so far away, but my notes and little enclosures let them know that Auntie Eleanor loves them and thinks of them constantly.

2:24 PM  
Blogger crystal said...

Yes, no greater joy for the grandkids but a letter or parcel addressed just to them from grandparents whom held on to the tradition of sending by post.
Thanks Grandma.

3:11 PM  
Blogger brandelion said...

great post. i love "snail mail" but rarely get it. i recently made a resolution to send more letters and cards. people get giddy about them. not that one should send letters for the purpose of reward, but it *is* rewarding to get a phone call or an email after your receiving human has received, to hear that person say, "i got your card! how (strange odd exciting thoughtful wonderful splendiforous different marvelous etc)!" it is almost as if getting a letter in the mail reminds one that he or she is, in fact, a person.

4:11 AM  
Blogger Julie Oakley said...

What a beautifully written post. You've convinced me - I'm going to make a real effort to make sure my children receive some hand written letters.

2:30 PM  
Blogger Roberta said...

eleanor, I could have easy guessed you are a letter writer. Your blog is the closest thing to a personal letter any blog could be and the pictures you include are always heart-warming as well. How lucky for your little nieces and nephews to have a caring Auntie like you.

Hi, crystal. Thanks for the visit. Although the gifts were small, it seems the surprise of getting them was huge. By the way, I really enjoyed the truths in your recent post about "The Stupid Assumption."

And brandelion, always nice to see a new face. Enjoyed your comments very much.

julie, you're another new face. Welcome to both you and brandelion. And julie, thank you so much for your kind encouragement. I hope both of you will continue to drop by...and maybe leave a personal letter, ..uh..I mean note in my comments section.

11:20 PM  

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