The lost art of letter writing

By: Joe Weaver - Contributing Columnist

I’m gonna sit right down and write me a letter, the old song says. While not grammatically correct, it’s also pretty much an antiquated statement. I can’t think of the last time I got a personal letter. Sure, I get all kinds of other mail. I get so much, I devoted a past column about the incredible amount of mail I receive at home. I get bills and magazines and fliers and circulars. I get postcards and handouts and surveys and advertisements. What I don’t get, and haven’t gotten in some time, are letters.

For those of you who don’t know (and I truly believe there might be one or two of you younger readers that don’t), a handwritten letter was about the second best thing you could get in the mail. The first was a card from your grandmother with a couple of bucks in it. The second, hands down, was a letter from someone. It could be from a friend or family member. It could be from some distant place or from the house across the street. It didn’t matter. It was especially for you.

The art of the letter was not contained only in the content. You got to see what the sender’s handwriting looked like. You could see the curve of the letters and the flourish of the signature. I got a letter once from a cousin that had an “R” with such a flourish, the rest of the word seemed to be carried by it’s outstretched arm. It was quite fun sometimes to attempt to decipher an elderly relative’s penmanship as if it were some kind of secret code. My name isn’t difficult to figure out, but when it’s written by a 90-year-old, even I have a hard time figuring out what it is.

Depending on the audience, the letter could be short or it could be long. I once corresponded with a girl I went to school with while we still saw each other every day. There was nothing going on between us other than friendship, but we traveled in different circles. We would write each other a weekly letter and shoot the breeze. It worked out great, because I didn’t care much for the telephone then. Additionally, as a teenager, I was much too shy to call anyone. Letter writing was much easier. One time, she sent me a letter spritzed with some expensive perfume. I don’t think there was any ulterior motive, but the letter sure smelled pretty.

Having a pen pal was once a very popular hobby. You could communicate with a friend in another city, state or country for the cost of a stamp. In school, they set us up with pen pals in the seventh grade. I got one from France. His English was bad and my French was equally so, and the correspondence ended shortly.

Social media, for all its benefits, also has its faults. Everyone jumps on Facebook and sends a message. With Twitter, you only get 140 characters. If you can tell me how each of your five kids are doing in school this year in 140 characters, more power to you. This is one of those events that calls for a six-page letter, in clear handwriting, with each of the kids’ school pictures tucked within the folds.

Once in a while, my mother-in-law will write my wife a little letter. She won’t mail it, though. She will send my father-in-law, letter in hand, to where I work, and drop it off so I can deliver it myself. She usually puts it in a small envelope with my wife’s name on it so I don’t forget to whom it is going. In two decades, I have never once given a letter meant for my wife to the cat, the goldfish or the woman next door. I imagine this is because my wife’s name is on the envelope is perfect cursive. Sometimes, she puts the sealed letter in a bag with a couple of pieces of fruit or cake for me to take home. My co-workers are a little jealous that I get a bag of fruit and cake sometimes. They also think it’s funny that the delivery boy is 75 and would rather be at home with his feet up and a drink in his hand.

I received what I can only call a “fan letter” this week. It was e-mailed to the paper. If it was actually mailed in, I would take it and frame it and hang it above my desk. I like things like that. Someone took the time to write to the paper and let the editor know that my column was liked. I thank you. On similar note, I received a friend request to my personal Facebook account. When I began writing this column, I had no inkling that would even happen. I like to keep some things private. I don’t think the readers of this paper are really interested in me posting pictures of my lunch, my cat, and I get about as many Candy Crush requests as I can handle right now. I set up a “public figure” Facebook page. You should be able to search it on Facebook as Joe Weaver, Columnist. I don’t see myself as a public figure, but my choices of category were limited. Please feel free to like the page and comment, whether you have praise or a complaint. I’m open to what you have to say.

I won’t send any autographed pictures, but you never know, I might send a letter.

Contributing columnist and Baltimore native Joe Weaver is a husband, father, pawnbroker and gun collector. From his home in New Bern, he writes on the lighter side of family life.

Joe Weaver

Contributing Columnist