“When I was eight, I got my first pen-pal. Forty years older than me, he was a prisoner on Death Row in Columbus, Georgia.” So began a presentation my daughter gave last week to an advertising agency. “I would write to him about who’d stolen my satsuma at break and as time passed, my suspicions that my best friend was wearing a bra. He wrote back about his daily hour of natural light, and what he was doing to pass time in his cell.”
Their three year exchange was an example of the the thought, the intimacy, and the physical ‘gift’ that a letter on the mat represents. “This Christmas, what would you rather receive?” she asked, “E-cards with your friends’ heads superimposed on the emaciated bodies of dancing elves, or handwritten envelopes pushed through the door with personal greetings from people who thought enough about you to write a note and to stamp and post them? Letters are precious. Write more.”
It was a no-brainer. In recent years I’ve group-sent family emails or e-cards. Last Christmas it was the latter, with our heads superimposed on the emaciated bodies of dancing elves… After my daughter’s peroration I bought a stack of greetings cards. In the half-darkness of a cold Monday afternoon I sat writing personal notes in each: Mrs Scrooge having her epiphany.
Then a shock. The only addresses I could remember, or had recorded, were of people who haven’t moved in years. For newer friends or those who’ve relocated I have only electronic addresses. When visiting we head for a postcode and then call to say: “What’s your house number again?” Being lost with the art of letter writing is the practice of record keeping.
Computer-generated missives from banks, utilities, fundraisers and estate agents dominate our doormats. Personal notes are rare. Most handwritten letters I’ve sent lately, were of condolence. That won’t be true for most people, but how sad to only take pen to paper to express regret!
The lesson of the season is that the act of writing is in itself a gift whether it’s a single line sending Season’s Greetings, or three pages on playground politics. My New Year’s Resolution is to write one personal letter a week to a friend overseas, or one of my roving children, to an infirm aunty or even, now and then, my local MP. Those of you struggling with perennial resolutions – losing weight, giving up smoking or changing lifestyles – might find it a preferable alternative.
In the meantime, A Happy Festive Season to all Tricycle Readers’ readers not in the address book!