The tongue is prone to lose the way. No so the pen. For in a letter we have not better things to say, but surely say them better. “Life”, 1847 Ralph Waldo Emerson
“Here comes the mailman.”
Boys rush to open the door. Looking quickly through bills and advertisements, one boy catches the beginning of his name, and turns, raising his hand triumphantly.
“I got mail.” Quickly opening it, he proclaims, “ It’s from grandma! I got stickers.”
Such was often the scene at my house.
My children not only received mail from my mother on birthday celebrations and Christmas but also interspersed throughout the year. They always sat down to draw a picture to mail back to her. All this mail traveling back and forth occurred even though my mom lived only 30 km away, and we visited frequently. Yet, an envelope pushed through the mail slot with a boy’s name on it remained a thrill.
When email entered our culture, it seemed everyone was more thrilled to see the “you’ve got mail” popup appear on their computer. However, the overall resulting decline in popularity of snail mail did not effect the continuous stamped mail outpouring from my mother’s house nor mine.
There is a deep need in our lives to have someone witness our commemorative celebrations. Those times, my sons received not only one, but two store bought cards, one silly and one serious. With all the time she spent reading every single card on the rack, it would have been quicker to make one. Plus, within each card, she always added a few extra thoughts, or an added a sticker beside an underlined sentence. Not only did my mother create a tangible witness to these events, but she recorded her love in those cards. She maintained close family relationships even with those whose lives spanned across the country by frequently mailing them “I am thinking of you” cards.
Each and every family member treasures a keepsake box of cards from my mother. My sons still have their box of grandma-handwritten notes, many still affixed with the 25cent coin sent for them to buy some gum. I witnessed the transition of heritage of my mother’s modeling of care when one six year old son sent her a card, complete with a Loonie taped inside so she could buy herself an ice cream cone.
One might think that with the ease of email communication, card stores would be missing from malls today, and no longer taking space in the average grocery story. And for a time, it did seem people resorted to e-cards.
But, e-cards cannot be placed on a table, admired on a piano or cover a nightstand.
E-cards do not bear handwritten add-ons, a signature of the sender or bear enclosed stickers . The visual expressiveness of a handwritten note, yes, even written in non-cursive, is distinct to an individual.
Today, not only are there sizeable card stores with racks of stickers that my mother would love to spend hours in, but the cards cover every imaginable situation. The surging popularity of stationary stores attests to a longing to create a stationary wardrobe, one that matches a unique personality and a style of communication. Just like the handwritten notes from my mother, that carries both her mood when she wrote it and historical context, today’s stationary expresses the unique reflection of a sender.
It is not emailed e-cards but these handwritten notes on specialized stationary and hard print snail mail cards that are now celebrated.
The popularity of Garth Callaghan’s book Napkin Notes took this celebration to a new level. His mission is to inspire parents to adopt the tradition he began with his daughter when she started kindergarten. Each day, he slips short simple notes, written on a napkin, into her school lunchbox.
None of this revival of handwritten notes surprises me.
All my life, I looked forward to receiving letters and cards. My mother instilled in me the value of a gifting a love note.
When my mother died mid-March twelve years ago, I was delighted to find a box filled with cards that people had mailed to her.
Apparently, she’d kept every single one. Reading each card, I learned details previously unknown to me about my mother and the sender.
Reading them was like viewing a visual recording of years of love extending across generations and through cities. Sorting them into piles, I carefully packaged and mailed to each sender all the cards they’d given to her. I trusted each person would be grateful to receive the package. They’d be able to reminiscence on the history of their relationship through the details in those cards. Surely, each card in her box would match up in time with a card they’d received from her.
I was even more delighted by what I found on her bedroom side table- two unsigned cards, one silly and one serious, ready to mail for my upcoming wedding anniversary. Like a perennial flower, these cards bloom with my mother’s love every year in April. When I hold them in my hand, as I read the wedding anniversary message, I hear her voice. And I feel the weighted impact all her mailed cards made in the lives of those she loved.
September 1st is letter writing day. This timeless art will continue as my mother’s legacy. My adult sons tell me that they read every single card on the rack before choosing one, even if it entails frequenting multiple card stores. When they too add a personal message inside, the transition of my mother’s heritage of love is complete.
She would be so pleased.
Margaret Shepherd’s The Art of the Personal Letter, The Art of the Handwritten Note
Garth Callaghan’s Napkin Notes
Sandra E. Lamb Personal Notes