My friend YP got me the best going-away gift: pre-stamped post cards made from my own pictures on Flickr!
Nowadays, I rarely send handwritten notes or letters. When I travel, I try to remember to send postcards, and while I succeed in buying them, I almost always forget to send them, then either lamely mail them from home or throw them in a drawer.
The very first person I wrote letters to was my aunt. I was about seven when I started writing to her. I’m not sure how our correspondence began. Perhaps she sent me a chatty birthday card, and my mother wanted me to be polite so had me pen a long thank you. My mother was quite strict about it: she’d proof what I had written again and again, and have me rewrite it multiple times. Why, I’m not sure. Maybe because my aunt could be critical, and my mother didn’t want hear her make some comment about how sloppy I was. Then why have me respond at all?
On my eighth birthday, someone gave me strawberry scratch ‘n stiff stationery. That night, I wrote my aunt a letter without my mother’s supervision, which meant writing it like I would a friend. “Take a whiff of those strawberries,” I wrote.
For some reason, my casual tone was considered impolite. Either I confessed to my mother or my aunt actually made a comment, because in my next letter I was instructed to apologize profusely.
My mother would also always intercept my aunt’s letters to me and read them first. What was she looking for? Some remark about her? Some chiding to me? My aunt’s notes were always harmless. She wrote about visits from my grandmother and the good food she made, camping trips with her family at Lake Tahoe, and riding a donkey down into a canyon.
To this day, things haven’t changed. Recently my aunt and I emailed a couple of times, and my mother wanted to know everything my aunt said.
After my correspondence with my aunt trickled off, I exchanged letters with friends who had moved away. There was one who went to Kentucky, and her letters were all exactly the same. “Who’s your best friend? What must do you like? I like the Police.” I also wrote to friends I saw every day. In junior high every morning a particular pal and I would exchange notes as we passed each other in the hallway on our way to first period. Not just notes, but papers folded up a million times into triangles you had to pry open with pliers.
What the heck did we tell each other every day? I remember moaning about how my teeth were killing me (because of my braces), and she responded, “Mighty Molar!” and drew a picture of bicupsid flexing its muscles. I also complained about my mother, calling her a witch. I really wanted to call her something else that ended in –itch, but I changed it. Still, she responded, “Don’t call your mother a witch!”
Of course I love getting emails from my friends, but there’s something about opening your mailbox and seeing something addressed to you that’s not a bill, credit card application, or catalog. With a little thrill you tear open the enveloped. What does your friend have to say? You see her handwriting and for a second it’s like you’re there with her, as she’s writing it, instead of thousands of miles away.