Thursday, November 11, 2010

Outside the Box

It’s Veteran’s Day. It’s a beautiful day. It’s all blue and gold as November isn’t generally reckoned to be around here.

I remember a lot of gray, chilly, wet November 11 dates. That’s why our mellow scene feels like an import from elsewhere.

We’ll take today with hands outstretched, as we’ve been gladly extending our hands to the windfall which has been this standout fall.

I’ve given my thoughts today to those who have served. This includes family members drafted out of family life or nascent careers or enlisting at a time of war.

One cannot sufficiently thank them for their service, which is the ultimate giving when you may be put in harm’s way that others may be safe.

Freedom is not to be taken lightly. Never should it be. Those who defend and protect rights that ensure freedom can never be fully repaid by one day of honor. A day like today focuses awareness and that’s always a good place to start.

As a result of it being a Federal holiday there is no mail delivery. Only once or twice in the past have we put out mail forgetting it’s a holiday. Take it from me. You feel sheepish when you have to go out and retrieve your piece of mail when everybody else has it figured out.

Today only one flag was up on the mailboxes. It says most of us are paying attention. Every year on the 11th of the eleventh month we honor our military men and women.

The mail put out in that one mailbox, with the red flag jauntily expecting someone to stop, will probably be trotted inside this evening. It’s someone else’s turn to realize there’ll be no pickup today.

Fortunately arriving yesterday, a day with regular mail delivery, was a card from a friend. She and Al were school classmates. They’re also cousins. Marrying him I acquired her as a friend. By now we go back a long way.

Cleaning out an old desk destined for her niece she came across many interesting items she noted.

Two enclosures inside her card were testimony to the fact. Unfolding the sheets of paper revealed them as letters I wrote to her years ago.

The letters were dated fifteen years apart and were among the findings in her desk drawer. “I thought you might get a smile out of taking a step back in time,” wrote our friend.

The youthful tone of that ancient correspondence allowed me to feel again the grasp of pen in hand as I put order to thoughts tumbling and cartwheeling around me. How exciting life is at twenty-six.

The first letter had news of Al’s promotion, a change of location and purchase of our first home. We were all of 3½ years married.

The second letter, spanning the births of the children and two subsequent career moves, is more general in content.

This time I summarize the busy present. You get an impression of an active family, kids each heading to a different school, Al picking up golf after some downtime and me as central coordinator keeping everything straight. Reading the letters was like hitting Replay on the memory reel.

The letters, in dark blue ink that still shows clearly, make me think. They could be held up as examples of a form of correspondence that has fallen by the wayside.

Letters were a customary means of staying in touch before the advent of internet and cell phones and all the technology that followed. It sounds quaint doesn’t it.

Opening my friend’s letter yesterday contrasts with the quiet at the mailboxes today. It’s not hard to imagine a time when mailboxes disappear from the curbs. Mail delivery won’t be absent for a day but abandoned altogether in lieu of something altogether new.

A quick email let my friend hear of the fun of the envelope and the enclosures. Speedy alternatives to letters (and I’m not even getting to tweet, twitter and texting) would make it appear there’s little need for snail mail, as U.S. mail is referred to by some, either affectionately or in dismay.

It’s my hope that stamped mail, expedited through the nation’s postal system, will continue to define how we stay in touch. I say this against the odds.

I want to believe handwritten correspondence can help guarantee survival of the chivalry of words, threatened by the misspellings and jumbled syntax which have begotten a new language.

Letter writing – the systematic transfer of thoughts to a sheet of paper folded, inserted into an envelope and mailed – is art like any other practiced, perfected undertaking.

Most of us who launch letters into the stream of 21st century living carry out this art form at some lower but nevertheless perfectly adequate level of execution.

Our letters don’t require fancy phrases or the quick apt bon mot. We don’t have to be clever or funny. We only have to be ourselves.

We write about what we see, feel and know. We compose from the reality of the moment. We opine our concerns. We expose our dreams. We shape experience into sharing.

Stamping, addressing and walking the envelope to post it adds the final fillip of delivering a part of ourselves along with the message.

Receiving back my letters struck me as amazingly coincidental. I had just been at the sending end of the same process.

Helping mom houseclean recently I found a bag tagged “Saved Letters.” My name was on it. I could tell it was mom’s handwriting.

I assumed the bag contained some of my weekly letters to the folks. When I opened the bag the handwriting on the envelopes was all different. It wasn’t mine.

The preserved correspondence represented a batch of letters written over a 15-year period. They were from a friend of mine.

An avid biker and traveler, this friend happens also to be a very good writer and one who likes both to send and receive mail.

Each letter was a travelog. It was full of places visited and folks met along the way. You were made to feel you met these people too.

I asked at the time if the letters could be passed on to mom. They were too interesting not to have further readership. Mom would similarly enjoy the bike jaunts, road trip commentary and postcards mailed from Mississippi River and Caribbean cruises.

Coming upon these letters now was sheer joy. I read through them again. I sorted the letters by year and gifted the collection back to my friend.

With grandkids arriving since that time, to now save the letters for, and other family members who would see the history inherent in a parent’s journey, these letters are part of a life story intact. They give my friend the opportunity to delight and inform others well after the bike time is over.

Our friend, signing her name on yesterday’s received note, ruefully ponders the foreign object clasped in her hand. We chuckled, knowing the feeling.

It’s true. None of us are familiar with a pen anymore. It’s unwieldy as we bend fingers around it. Unclenching our fists we set it down.

If the pen is unwieldy the writing paper is nearly impossible. For one thing it’s hard to find. I’ve shopped far and wide looking for simple writing paper.

“To think!” I say. At one time pen and a lined tablet or expensive stationery went together like salt and pepper. They were as mutually paired, and as on hand in the home, as the salt and pepper shakers beside the stove in the kitchen.

My theory is that we should still keep our pen nearby. Regularly write to someone. Always start the letter with the date at the top. Write our signature boldly at the bottom.

These rare and random mailings will prove that something put to paper eventually becomes more significant than something unrecorded.

Our letters and postcards, sent from Texas or Buenos Aires or the small town in the far corner of the state, don’t always go out in the next day’s trash. Some will find their way into someone’s desk or dresser drawer.

There they’ll lie, in either remembered or forgotten state, for perhaps years.Then one day they’ll be discovered. And perhaps be returned.

If they are, be assured. They come with a smile in store for you.

Ro Giencke - 2010

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