Wait a Minute, Mr. Postman

Form letters and junk mail flood our mailboxes today.

Man putting letter into mailbox

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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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Comments

  1. I agree that emails are not edifying but in today’s world it gives us a way to connect with many more family members and friends far more often. I miss greeting cards and letters but am still happy when I receive “Hi Grandma how ya doing?” from a grandchlld or a dear friend who just says Hi Im thinking of you how are you? I like personal contact though best of all…

  2. Your comments brought back childhood memories. My Dad had a sister named Annie. She was married to a dentist. Unfortunately. Annie died of tuberculosis in a sanitarium. I never knew her, but my Dad and uncles remembered her fondly. She was the only sister of four brothers. Her husband, who we called uncle Doc suffered a stroke after her death While in the hospital uncle Doc met a nurse who he later married. They moved to Florida, but kept in touch with our family. Your comments about the postman reminded me of how I looked forwarded to the letters from my “Uncle Doc”.

  3. Mr. Dwyer: I totally agree with your article except for one thing, I am now 89 years old, and where I once had beautiful hand writing, I m afraid it now resembles hen scratching more than anything else. So if I really want someone to read what I am sending, I print it out on my computer as I don’t want to punish their sensibilities any more than necessary. I still consider it to be handwritten, but now they are able to read it without having to strain their imaginations to decipher it.

  4. When I was 7 and up, every year for Christmas in my stocking there was a pen and note paper neatly wrapped by Santa. It was my Mother’s way of instilling sending thank you notes for presents that I had received. Thus I began to write letters to my Grandmother and Aunts. I kept some of them and once in awhile I get them out and read them again. Letter writing is an art that should be cherished.

  5. Excellent article Ed. Even if I don’t receive many handwritten letters, I still like sending them partly because they’re unexpected, and I have nice handwriting. Texts and e-mails are great for more immediate everyday communication, but if that’s not necessary traditional letters are wonderful.

    My comments would be incomplete without mentioning the song “Please Mr. Postman” from a very bygone era. The versions by the Marvelettes and the Beatles were good, but the Carpenter’s version proved the 3rd time really was the charm.

  6. The handwritten card or letter says I took the time to focus on the person I am writing to without doing much else. It gives me time to think of that person too.
    Then there are the talk to text programs that make writing an email so quick, why bother?
    So I can get back to something less important?
    While I’m at it, when I call someone to say hello that’s all I’m doing. I have a cell but rarely have long conversations on it, just bird chirps, or making plans. For some reason the land line plops me down in one spot, I give up the multitasking, and enjoy the one to one experience more fully.

  7. A lovely touch, back in the 50s when I was writing my sweetheart, was scented stationery. Even in faraway Korea, he would receive a scented reminder of home and a loved one missing him.

  8. Thank you for a great reminder Mr. Dwyer. I too keep boxes of precious cards and letters. They are part of my past connections and loves.
    Since the Pandemic, I have tried to send letters, cards and my original poems to friends in Care Centers. They usually are not able to respond, but I can guess it brings a little light into their lonely lives. I use a lot of stamps, but that is a small cost. I know I would be so happy to be on the recieving end! At age 91 I could join them soon!!

  9. Mr. Dwyer:
    What a wonderful weekly newsletter. I too so miss hand written notes and letters and in fact, recently came across in my belongings, and with tears reread some notes to me from my late mother. Alas, as my older brother (who I idolized and was the finest man I’ve ever known along with my father and son) always said: “you can’t go back”. Nonetheless, i am now calling my wife who is at the local Kroger to pick up some cards for me to send to cherished friends and relatives.
    Sincerely yours,
    Tom Forks

  10. Loved Ed Dwyer’s article. It is disappointing “thank yous” for lovely gifts chosen carefully are texts.
    At 87 and with shaky hands, I do write both letters and postal cards. I will do this forever… it blesses ne as I out it in the outside mailbox.
    God bless you, Mr. Dwyer as you bless others with your gift of writing.

  11. Enjoyed “Wait a Minute, Mr. Postman” – I’m a senior born 1940 & grew up during WW-II – and all the “wars to end all wars” – and remember mail delivery 2 times a day (& my parents shared phone “party-line” with a neighbor) – and actually recall our mailman chatting amiably on occasion with me / siblings / parents, even with doing his “rounds” twice a day. Then too, I received my college acceptance letter, and ROTC officer 1st assignment – by mail. Then, not too long after, the computer & Internet world started to dominate. Well, my “soap-box” emails to Family & Friends on sports, politics, etc. I’ll construe as “mail” delivered in the spirit of a live “Postman”

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