This afternoon our postman paid his daily visit, and once again he delivered disappointment. In the mailbox, I found the predictable batch of credit card bills, solicitations from a half-dozen charities, a catalogue, a Medicare supplement statement, and several pizzeria menus.
You would think by now I’d know better than to be disappointed, but I suffer from an abiding nostalgia for the days of yore when I might discover an unexpected, handwritten, hand-addressed, just-for-me missive amid all the junk mail and form letters. It might be a postcard from friends on vacation, a thank-you note, or perhaps just a simple I’m-thinking-of-you greeting. I miss the days when people used stationery purchased at a local stationery store, and everyone had at least one quality fountain pen, say a Cross or a Parker, that they used and cherished.
In other words, the days before email.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not down on digital dispatches. I send plenty of emails, I text several times a day, and I’ve been known to post photos and share memes on Facebook. As mediums, they’re everything we prize nowadays: fast, convenient, accessible. Ultimately though, emails, texts, and Facebook posts don’t cut it for me. There’s no warmth in digital greetings, whereas a handwritten and -addressed card or letter can lift the spirits and bring a special joy.
There’s no warmth in digital greetings, whereas a handwritten and -addressed card or letter can lift the spirits and bring a special joy.
I ask you, where’s the passion in an emailed love letter? No matter how many emoji hearts and kisses are attached, it’s still just pixels on a screen. Could there be anything colder than a Dear John text? You can’t even rip it up. And how do you save an email or text for posterity? In my garage, I have several shoeboxes full of letters and postcards that I received over the years from girlfriends, wives, old pals, beloved relatives, colleagues, and far-flung acquaintances. Some of my fondest memories are preserved in those boxes.
Speaking of postcards, I haven’t received one since I don’t remember when. I miss them. They were fun to get. You could put them on display on the refrigerator or the family bulletin board. A postcard meant a friend was thinking of you and wanted you to share in their experience (“wish you were here”).
Here’s where I make a confession: I haven’t been holding up my end as a correspondent. Yes, I religiously send Christmas and birthday cards (though, sadly, fewer every year), and lately more condolence cards than I’d prefer. But I haven’t sat down with pen and paper in recent memory to send my best to or catch up with a friend.
It’s not like I don’t have the letter-writing hardware. I have some lovely embossed stationery from Smythson of Bond Street that I’ve never used. It was a gift from a friend in England back in 2000, and even then it seemed sweetly archaic. I also own a classic Montblanc fountain pen that I’ve used just once in the last decade. (I’ve been using ballpoints filched from my dentist’s office and Weight Watchers meetings.) And I call myself a writer.
As it happens, 2020 marked the 50th anniversary of the USPS. If you’ve been reading the papers, you know it’s in a bad way for a lot of reasons, a big one being the impact of the internet. With more and more business and communications happening online, there’s less and less revenue from postage. Perhaps if we all sent more cards and letters by mail, using a first-class Forever stamp, it would help the letter carriers keep their essential jobs.
With that in mind, I think I’ll grab my Montblanc pen, fill it up, and in my best cursive write a nice thank-you note to my editor for this assignment.
Now, where’s that stationery …
Ed Dwyer’s last article for the Post was on Woodstock in the July/August 2019 issue.
This article is featured in the January/February 2021 issue of The Saturday Evening Post. Subscribe to the magazine for more art, inspiring stories, fiction, humor, and features from our archives.
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