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Nothing like a letter to brighten your day

When I read the column in this space about the Christmas letters, I was in tears -- of laughter! I'd just received one in my mailbox.

An old and dear friend, an Episcopalian priest who retired to California, sends beautiful letters every year, with pictures. I love 'em. My love affair with the written word goes back to elementary school. My little girlfriends and I passed many gossipy notes -- surreptitiously, we thought -- on a daily basis.

In high school there were notes to and from boys -- the ones we read and reread, folded and refolded until they were the consistency of Kleenex. I even tried to save them in a scrapbook but had a snoopy little brother who liked to "share" with the neighborhood.

During the war years, I was in college in Rochester. All of us girls had boyfriends who were somewhere in the Pacific or Europe, and letter writing became as important as studying. The highlight of our days was a full mailbox.

When we graduated, we all scattered but we kept in touch by mail, snail mail, of course. After the Depression and World War II, I guess we were all anxious to see that our kids had it better, and thus, the Christmas letter, full of family tales and adventures, was born.

So many friends are gone now, and I miss those letters. After I changed careers from nursing to teaching, I worked in a school where our boss, Bob Schaefer, kept in touch with his staff with "See Me" notes in our mailboxes. Usually the message was something innocuous like, "Nance, see me about a faculty party." However, I was so impressed with his notes, I'd gift wrap them and return them to Bob at our final faculty meeting in June.

The transition from nursing to teaching health to eighth-graders was logical. The challenge was working without a textbook -- they become outdated so soon -- and finding a way to get my students to write. First I decided on a weekly spelling test. I don't know how often "pathogenic microorganism" comes up in their conversations now, but they sure know what it means and how to spell it!

We did a comprehensive unit on human sexuality and I knew many of them had questions that they were too embarrassed to ask in class. Thus the "Question Box" appeared on my desk. They could drop in any question, anonymously, and I promised to answer every one. If I didn't know the answer, I'd contact someone (a doctor) and find out. And I kept my promise.

Their lack of knowledge was as surprising as their misinformation. I learned to "translate" racy language in a hurry. Some were sad: "How do you know you're gay?" or "How can I stop my parents' divorce?" (That one hit home for me.) And, always, "What do you think of abortion?" I still have the questions.

When we covered the degenerative diseases of age, I asked for 100 words on "one of my favorite senior citizens." The fact that I was sometimes the subject was both flattering and disconcerting, since I was in my 50s.

My own "kids" insisted on a computer for this old lady since all but one live out of town. This way I can keep in touch via e-mail. It is convenient and I do use it.

But I still love a multipage letter stuffed in a business-sized envelope, written on any old kind of paper in ink, pencil, crayon or magic marker. I'm not fussy -- a big, fat letter that I can read and reread.

So write me a letter and tell me all your news. A Christmas letter? A postcard? Please?

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