JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: Youngest is off to Camp Bishopswood for two weeks, which means 1) things are a lot quieter 2) we can have salads for dinner without listening to demands for burgers and 3) writing letters.
Bishopswood is an old-fashioned camp; no computers, no cellphones, no tablets or ereaders or mp3 players. If there's some sort of emergency, parents can call the camp office, but otherwise, if you want to communicate with your kid, you write letters. (The campers all write letters, too...they don't get lunch on Tuesday unless they've turned in at least one envelope to their counselors!)
It's become a pleasant ritual for me; I sit at the dining room table early in the morning with my tea and a notecard and a good pen, and jot down amusing things from the previous day. Stick a stamp on it, pop it in the mailbox and you're done. Every summer, I think, "I like this. It's such a civilized, pleasant way to communicate." And after every summer I don't write out a single letter until I (maybe) do Christmas cards.
It got me thinking about writing and receiving letters in the past. I was thirty-four when we got our first personal computer; so my life at college and grad school and living abroad was marked by a trail of letters, mostly from my mother (Thanks, Mom!) Younger than that, I remember the thrill of getting my first set of my-very-own writing paper and envelopes. I had pen pals - remember pen pals? Before you could contact anyone on the planet via Twitter? When my Dad was courting my mom from four-hours-drive away, he would send her letters, and inside would always be a clipping or a silly joke for me.
I had angry, passionate, funny letters from boyfriends, catch-up missives from girlfriends at distant colleges (yes, kids, there was intercollegiate life before Facebook,) sweet cards from my Alabama grandmother with crabbed printing and prayers tucked inside. There was onionskin air mail paper, and soft rag paper from Crane, and after I was married, a lovely flat card with Mr and Mrs Ross Hugo-Vidal along the top. It all sounds a bit Victorian almost thirty years on, but letter writing gave us tangible memories and made the walk to the mailbox something to anticipate, rather than a chore.
How about you, Reds? Did you love to correspond, or were you reluctant writer? Any memorable letters, to or from? And in the best of ll possible worlds, which would you prefer? Email? Or pen and paper?
HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Oh, Julia. A high point of every day is when I go to the mailbox. There's always this...hope. That there might be a real letter. There rarely is. But still, the yearning for real mail is so tangible! I treasure them, I love them, and I have a tiny box of them, and interestingly some are to other people from me, since I used to type them on multi-carboned script paper, and I kept them, some from the beginning of my TV career. And some from when I was planning my first wedding in 1971. They are fascinating! (And I think I sound smarter than I do now.)
Now. Do I fulfill anyone else's mail-hope by writing letters? Hardly ever. I have such regrets about that, and I know it's one of my losses. But every time I consider writing a letter, and I often do, I say to myself: Okay, I'm doing this. I have STATIONERY. I have a nice pen. I have stamps. But--where's the address? Oh, no, the address. We used to have address books, remember? And that made it easier. But my lists are on the computer, and somehow that's difficult, and then I need to do the laundry ,and then, why not just write an email, if it's going to take this long? And another good intention turns to nothing.
I love holiday cards, I really treasure them. And this year, I am DOING them.. Please, everyone, email me your addresses. Seriously.
LUCY BURDETTE: I love letters too, and have many, many crammed into boxes in my closet. And I do try to send birthday cards and get well cards and postcards to John's mom and my uncle. But they are rarely bona-fide letters. And some Christmas cards too, but those have a paragraph printed on them, along with photos, so they probably don't count. My father was an amazing and dedicated letter writer, and his brother is like that too. It's so much easier to send email, but who is going to look in the sent file when we're gone to remember the past? I'm afraid it's mostly a lost art, but I say that with regrets!
RHYS BOWEN: I have some old fashioned friends who still send handwritten thank you notes. I love getting them and feel guilty that I don't send them more. I really regret the passing of true correspondence. I've exchanged emails with some pretty famous people, and I'm sure the rest of the Reds have too. And when I delete I often think that my witty retorts will never be included in the volume of Letters of Rhys Bowen. Like Hank, I love getting real letters, but it doesn't happen too often now. I do still send out Christmas cards--over 100 to friends all over the world, and love receiving them in return. My mother and grandmother exchanged letters every Sunday. I kept all the letters from two of my boyfriends and wish I hadn't discarded them now. I remember one of those boys was particularly witty..
DEBORAH CROMBIE: Oh, I love letters! There's always a faint hope when I sort through the bills and junk that fill my mailbox every day. And last week there was actually a letter! With a UK postmark, which was even better! Scrawled on the back was the name of a friend in England I hadn't heard from in a while. My first thought was that she'd lost my email address... But, no, inside was a short handwritten note, along with a clipping mentioning me from the Times. So thoughtful of her to mail it when she could have just scanned and emailed it!
My first thought was that I would mail her a thank you note rather than thanking her by email. Have I done it? No.... I have cards and lovely personalized stationary and a half a dozen very nice fountain pens. I have pretty postage stamps, and I even have super cool personalized return address stamp! But I don't write. How hard is it to sit down, like Julia, and write at least a quick note?
When I lived in Scotland and England my mom and I wrote all the time. No email, no Facebook, and long distance phone calls were very expensive. My mom typed the letters on onionskin paper, and she always included clippings from my favorite cartoon strips. These letters were priceless. I think I might still have them packed away in a box. I hope so. And I resolve--once again--to be better at sending real mail.
JULIA: How about you, dear readers? Are you writing letters? Reading them? Pressing them with flowers between the pages of thick books?