Snail mail

       I once heard someone object to the term as an insult, snails being associated with slime as well as slowness. But there had to be some way to differentiate between electronic missives and those send by pony express, er, post office.

        I am becoming increasingly impatient with email. Of course, the novelty is long gone, but I find it easier faster to make plans, answer questions, and clear up misunderstandings on the phone. If I’m online and receive an email I want to answer, I often grab the receiver (yeah, yeah, it’s still a landline) and say, “Hello.” The real-time contact feels like a gift.

      But that’s a little beside the point. The point being that my daughter’s boyfriend is in the military, deployed in Afghanistan, and the two of them are writing letters. By hand. On paper. Daily. They talk on the phone, too, but there’s little privacy for him and the connection isn’t reliable. Email access is limited.

       And it turns out that the hand-written letter remains as powerful and romantic and consoling for 21st century twenty-somethings as it has always been for those sent to war and those waiting for their safe return. The daily rush to the mailbox, the tactile satisfaction of holding something that was recently touched by your beloved, and indeed a thing of his/her thinking and making: powerful magic.

         Due to the way that the mail is dispatched and transported, E. and T. tend to receive letters in bulk. Two or four or seven envelopes arrive at once, which is a happy bonanza when it happens but a bummer on the days between. In the meanwhile, there is at least the pleasure of re-reading, of putting the letters aside for safe-keeping, a permanent record of separation and connection, longing and love.

         The news that the US Postal Service may be ending Saturday delivery makes me even sadder now.


  1. N on April 14, 2011 at 11:19 am

    I was brought to your blog while surfing for details about The Red Tent. It sounds just like my kind of book and I will keep an eye out for it on my next book-buying trip.

    Ah, I remember what it was like to write and receive a letter, even though it must be years since I got one and put pen to paper to answer. That sweet moment when I see the white envelope, the rush of joy and the feel of it in my hands, a pleasure almost forgotten…

    On a more personal note, I hope your daughter and her boyfriend will be together soon. It must be a difficult time for both of them.

  2. JennieArmato08 on April 24, 2011 at 11:30 pm

    Hi Anita, A girlfriends sent me a link to your post about letters and service.

    Today in Australia it is our rememberance/memorial day (ANZAC Day), when we commemorate the lives lost and changed by war.

    Two days ago we were at my mother-in-laws house and she brought out dusty old box and within it were a number of letters written from my husband’s grandfather to his wife whilst in service in Burma and New Guinea in WW2. There was also a postcard he wrote for his son (my father-in-law) at Christmas, when my F-I-L was just 5 weeks old – wishing him well and welcoming him to the world.

    They never met.

    The day after he wrote that note, he was killed in action. It was a defining time in the family’s history and I do not wish that upon anyone.

    Those letters though have such powerful meaning today – some 75 years later and they give us great insights in to the experience of being in active combat. He wrote them to connect and we still feel his energy today.

    Keep those letters in a safe place for many generations to come, they will serve as a glimpse of a life committed to service and gratitude for true love.

    Thank you for letting me share that.

    Jennie Armato

  3. Brenda McDonald on May 16, 2011 at 1:42 pm

    I love a hand written letter.

    I hope he comes home soon, and unti then may those letters keep on coming.

    On another subject, your performance in King David with the Newburyport Choral Society was fantastic. I found the production inspiring and your passion contagious. Plus, it was nice to see Jim after all these years!

    Also, Joy and I attended your reading at the Newburyport Literary Festival and that was lively and interesting.

    If I still lived in Newburyport, I’d ask the mayor to give you a key to the city, as it seems you are an adopted daughter there!

    Be good to yourself.

    Brenda M.

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