Computers and the Mail

First off, let me confess: I’m getting old. But don’t get me wrong – I (mostly) love my computer. It is wonderful in so very many ways. It is a super typewriter that doesn’t require white-out, and it prints with a simple push of a button without requiring me to leave my chair. It provides instant access to all sorts of information: well, I don’t have to hunt for the telephone book, or search for the dictionary, or plod through my encyclopedia to find stuff. It enables me to do my banking and pay my bills online if I want to do so (well, I don’t, but that isn’t the issue). I can shop for almost anything and buy it through online catalogs. I can “attend” on-line, live lectures and demonstrations relating to my quilting hobby (and I’m sure this has significant business applications). It has instant access to hundreds of fun – and free — games to play. The news and weather are at my fingertips. I have met and become cyber-friendly with dozens of people I otherwise would never have met. I get email and greeting cards from friends and family. I can instant-message several times a day with my children and close personal friends. My computer even has a camera in it, and, if I want, I can see my daughter “live” while we are instant messaging or check out her house when she is on vacation. (No, I haven’t upgraded to actually talking with her on the computer.)

As wonderful as all of these things are, methinks there is a downside to computers. I get more computer greeting cards than I now get in my mail box. The paper greeting cards live on for days or weeks on my kitchen door and can be kept after they are taken down, but the computer cards are gone as soon as I finish looking at them. Because computers are quick and easy to use, well, except for inserts into paper Christmas greeting cards, most people don’t write letters much nowadays. Also, the “letters” I get in those cards are one of multiple copies intended for everyone on the Christmas list. They are annual summaries of the family good (or bragging) “news.”

I miss the letters I used to get in the good old snail mail days. Every day’s mail was eagerly awaited because there might be a letter in it. Those letters were personal. Of course, they included all of the “good” news: the vacations, the achievements, the exciting or wonderful or funny things that were happening. But they also included the daily activities, joys and, sometimes, the sorrows of the writers. They included hopes and other emotions, and, sometimes, confidences. On some, there were the traces of the tears of the writers, and some had the lipstick print of a kiss.

Yes, some of those kinds of messages come through in my email or instant messages, but they sort of get lost as the days pass, and the ones I want to re-read aren’t easy to identify as I scroll through my computer’s list of all the messages I have received (and not deleted). The instant messages are gone forever when I shut down my computer for the night. To me, the paper letters are precious, things to be kept. They are intimate. They are personal. They took time to write. The sender had to put a stamp on them, so it cost them something to send them. A letter with a three-cent stamp was great to receive, but when air mail letters were instituted (I seem to remember that an air mail stamp cost seven cents), there was no question that it was an important, perhaps urgent message.

My snail mail letters are things I occasionally get out and read again. I have many of the weekly letters my long-deceased mother sent to me, all of the rare letters my father wrote, all of the letters my fianc©e wrote the summer I worked in Yellowstone Park and he worked in a fire tower in a national forest. One aunt always included a stick of gum in her letters to me (I chewed the gum, but I still have the letters). I can still smell the Juicy Fruit or Spearmint scent of the gum that was in them. One uncle didn’t write very often, but his letters always included a dollar bill – back when a dollar was a fortune to a kid. And I have the few letters my daughter wrote home.

Josie went to camp when she was 10. My son, Jake, at 8 years old, was not old enough to go to camp, and he was heartbroken because he couldn’t go. A day or so before Josie left for camp, Jake and I were in a shopping center, and we passed by a pet store with a part-Chihuahua puppy playing in the big store window. As I shopped elsewhere, Jake begged me for that puppy. I told him we already had Chum, but he protested that Chum was Josie’s dog. I eventually crumbled and bought the puppy for him. In my daily letters to Josie at camp, I told her about the cute things the new puppy had done, including that Jake had named him Pedro.

A few days later, a letter arrived from Josie, but it was addressed to Mr. C. B. Edwards. C.B.? It had Josie’s name on the return address, so I opened it. The letter read:

“Dear Chum,

“Bet you’re having fun with Pedro. Are you eating the Puppy O’s? If so, bad dog! If not, good pup! Pedro needs different food than you. Is Jake giving Pedro his tablet? Please tell him to do so.

“Please tell Pedro and Elizabeth and D.J. (the kee-kees) I love them. I love you too.

“Love,

“Josie”

(Elizabeth and D.J. were the cats.)

Josie wrote to the DOG — and not to ME! Oh, well, that was typical Josie. It amused me then, and it still does every time I think about it.

I have seen the handwritten letters written by former presidents, artists, writers, and other famous people in display cases in museums and libraries. I have read biographies, memoirs, histories in which the writers quoted from letters written by their subjects. My letters or the letters I have received will never appear in such places, but they are my history and that of my family. My emails will disappear.

I miss the snail mail letters. I think we all are poorer because of its virtual demise.