Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Penpals and The Lost Art (?) of Letter Writing

When I was in elementary school, I had a penpal named, Sandra, from somewhere in Europe. (Mom, do you remember where?)  I can still see her handwriting.  She wrote in English with a European flair, and we asked each other questions like, "What is your favorite color?" & "What is your favorite subject in school?"  I really looked forward to receiving letters from her.  Then somehow the mail exchange fizzled out.

A few years later, I became penpals with a soldier.  In 8th grade, during Desert Storm, Mrs. Woods had our class write letters to a "soldier" and then mailed them.  They randomly got distributed, and the soldier that received my letter wrote me back. We wrote back and forth, I sent him packets of ketchup, mustard, and honey, and I couldn't wait to get my next letter.  I could type out my soldier's name right here and now including his middle initial: "R", but I'll keep it to myself for privacy's sake.   This exchange also fizzled out once school was over for the year.

At camp, I'd receive letters and cards from my mom, my dad, and my brother.  You know how it is at camp, the counselors make you do stupid things for mail and embarrass you.  I became quite popular at Camp Quaker Haven since all my letters came with my nickname written all over them.

Then, in high school and college, I had friends I had met and actually knew that lived faraway, so to keep in contact, we wrote letters - handwritten letters in envelopes with stamps and addresses.  I couldn't wait to get mail.  I knew my friends' handwriting and could tell who the letter was from without reading their names.  We were creative with our correspondence and wrote funny return address names, decorated the envelope, and I even mailed a letter with enough 1 cent stamps to equal the accurate postage for a first-class letter.  I received a letter on a napkin from Subway, a letter on a huge poster-size piece of paper folded up to fit in an envelope, and letters on all sorts of cute stationery.  I first "met" my college roommate in a letter.  I kept in contact with my friends from college during summer vacation through letters.  At Tabor, checking the mail was an exciting (or devastating) part of the day.  I hoped for any type of cool mail - mail delivered from the US Postal Service or intercampus mail from friends - just something that wasn't junk...or from a cow (yes, a guy friend put a rolled up truly real cow tongue in my mailbox so that when I opened it, it rolled out...gross). I wrote notes to Aaron through intercampus mail, sent him homemade cards, and we wrote back and forth the summer we were apart in college...real love letters.

Unique handwriting, friendly thoughts, fun stamps, cute stickers, colorful pens, and adorable paper all add up to make an inexpensive gift in the mail and make someone feel important and special.   It's funny because I'm only in my 30's, and I feel like it is weird to say, "back in the day".  But honestly, back in the day, not too long ago, that is how we kept in touch.  Now Facebook, emails, text messages, and twitter are the methods of correspondence and mailbox mail is for advertisements, catalogs, and bills.  I must say, I don't have much time to sit and write letters (and even my thank you notes are becoming embarrassingly late), but I love getting fun mail.  I enjoy and look forward to emails from friends, but is it the same?  This post was prompted by the fact that I just read a book called, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows,  and while I don't agree with 100% of the ideas of the characters or all of their lifestyle choices, I love the time period (post WWII), the subject matter, and it is written in letter format.  I love how you can get to a know a person through their writing voice, their word choice, and their handwriting.  I love how you can get a letter and know that the person who sent it has held it, written on it, spent the time and energy to write your address and find a stamp and mail it, and perhaps they even licked the envelope to seal it.  It is personal.

Maybe I'll write a letter today.


  1. The only person who still writes me using snail mail, is Grandma Van and I LOVE getting those letters. You're right, they are personal and mean so much. At least not everyone has Facebook or email!

  2. Letters from my parents in college were the highlights of my day! Dad always wrote on the envelope of the letters Mom sent. Things like SWAK, ILYVM, etc. Dad is known for leaving mom notes with things like this on them. She is great at figuring them out! I didn't get many letters from dad but he always made them funny. Once he sent a letter to me AND my roommate. We each had every other word, so we had to sit and read them together. He also did things like first line, last line, 2nd line, next to last line, etc.. or wrote in a circle. I agree. Letter writing is sadly a lost art!

  3. I still write letters and love them! My brother Aaron (an English major) is big on writing, so we write a lot. My girls love getting mail too from grandma and grandpa. Our family has a whole box full of letters my grandpa sent his parents during WWII. It was so much fun to read through all of them. Reading this post brought back lots of memories...we haven't been out of college that long, but boy have times changed!

  4. Pretty certain I have YOU to THANK for a mailbox boasting a pack of multi-colored ALBERT SCHWEiTZER pencils!!! :)

    I, too, am quite fond of the handwritten note!!

    Happy 4th to ya,
    AMY G.

  5. Love this post . . . I just sent Ian a handwritten letter to camp this summer. I still love to handwrite notes to Jason. And I totally remember the cow tongue and "meeting" you in a letter. great post. Maybe I'll write a letter this week too.