When my mother and father met they were working at the same department store in our town; she on the fourth floor in girdles and bras and he in the mezzanine in sports equipment. She bought a baseball glove for her brother from him and was shocked when on the same bus going home that night there was the tall handsome salesman.
Even more shocking was the fact that they got off at the same stop.
He began walking her home, lingering on the sidewalk and finally hanging out on her stoop until my grandmother called her in.
They spent that summer reading Shakespeare sonnets and playing Twenty Questions; I’m thinking of an animal, vegetable or mineral. One night he took the big fat book and scrawled on the inside cover, “I’m thinking of a woman and it’s no game.” That was it. She was putty.
The winter I was dating my husband I had given him forced paperwhites and when I was gone they bloomed. He pressed a few of the tiny yellow flowers with the orange centers and sent me a note, “I miss your yellow flowers with the little orange centers.” I was putty.
My parents fell in love through their letters. I was already in love but his notes sealed the deal.
Like most preteens of the era I kept a diary.
And when I was 12 I wrote to all my friends at camp with SWAK (sealed with a kiss) on the back flap. I had a pen pal in high school, and I wrote to my mother every other day when she was a new young widow.
When magic markers came in I decorated my envelopes with every color. The texture drove me nuts. And when glitter came in I thought I had died and gone to heaven. Waiting for the postman, saving the stamps, looking at the postmarks from foreign places like New York and New Jersey was thrilling.
My favorite letter in all the world came from my grandfather who wrote in phonetic English. There was only one word typed across the top of the page, a jumble of letters strung together; v e n u g o n a g e t m e r i t. It took me several readings to translate, “Ven you gonna get married?”
Six years ago, right before my mother died at 92, we were watching television together. The internet was new (to us). She turned to me and said, “What is it with this dot org, dot schmorg, dot net, dot schmet. I hate it.”
I tried to explain it to her. She lost interest. Now I get it. I am the same way with facebook, schmace book, twitter schmitter and tumble schmumble. Have I turned into her?
I see the value of the net, the immediate gratification. I do email. I love email. I only text my kids because it’s the only way I can get a response the same day even though it takes me an hour to write that abbreviated weird-looking, wrongly-spelled half sentence. I can’t skip prepositions. I’m sorry. And I can’t spell wrong. It kills me.
I think for me seeing words on paper, comforting complete sentences, having feelings and putting them down on the page, choosing the perfect stamp and sticking it in that perfect corner is a tangible thing. It has texture, it has shelf life, it has permanence. I love the way the wavy lines of the postmark look on the envelope.
In the last few years I have met 12, 13 and 14-year-olds who have never received a letter. I silently groan and inwardly roll my eyes but mainly I just feel sad for them.
Last night when I couldn’t stop that stupid rainbow-colored ball from rolling and rolling on my computer, I called my 13-year-old neighbor. She came right over, forced quit (whatever that is) and when I said I’m going to send you a thank you note with SWAK on the flap, I think I detected a silent groan and an inward roll of her eyes.
And I bet all the way back to her house she just felt sad for me.
Nancy Slonim Aronie teaches the Chilmark Writing Workshop on Martha’s Vineyard. She won the Derek Bok Teacher of the Year award at Harvard for the three years she taught for Robert Coles. She is a commentator for National Public Radio’s All Things Considered. Her book Writing From The Heart has gone into its seventh printing and will be released as an Ebook in May.