I’m gonna sit right down and write myself an e-mail,
And make believe it came from you.

I’m not so sure this is what Fats Waller and a myriad of other recording artists would ever have envisioned when they covered this charming, but somewhat snarky song way back when, but it sure seems to be where the world is heading, isn’t it? It came to me a few weeks ago when, putting the Christmas decorations away, I noticed on a nearby shelf, an old plastic tub simply overflowing with “stuff.” So much so that the lid wouldn’t stay on any more. I worried that some little mousies might be looking for material for a nest and by some miracle, I had a few free minutes. So I got it lugged upstairs and started to go through it. It turned out to be somewhat of an archaeological dig.

One of the first things I uncovered was a blue plastic bag filled with newspapers and magazines from the Kennedy Assassination, nearly fifty years ago. At the time, and maybe even still, I figured they’d be worth something to somebody, so into the family archives they’d gone. Along with, I might add, newspapers and magazines from the first landing on the moon, and a special edition of Life on the elevation of John Paul II to the papacy. Interesting, but do I want to keep those things? I do. For now.

The next layer held a bunch of photographs, invitations to our 15th wedding anniversary party that the kids threw for us, old concert programs, and well, you know. I’m sure you have a box or two of such things in your house. I sorted it all out, tossing several items that I had no idea why they were there in the first place. I had a fair pile to go into the recycle bin.
But then towards the bottom came the motherlode. The sarcophagus loaded with golden artifacts. The Holy Grail.

A bunch of letters. Letters the kids had written from camp, from college, from after they were married. Letters from other family members. Letters from my mom. Letters from Pat’s mom and dad. Letters from me to Pat and he to me. Precious. Endearing. Funny. Jubilant. Thankful. Loving. Begging for an extra bit of cash, for a prayer. The whole spectrum of life to read again and again, not click on Delete and forget.
How long had it been since I’d added to that stash? I wondered. What with emails and text messages, we hardly ever have to pick up a pen and actually compose our thoughts to put on paper in a permanent way. Even I, the resident technophile, began to feel a sense of loss because I knew those opportunities for a personal connection with others was going to keep fading.

I suddenly remembered a picture of my oldest sister that I’d recently found. So, I sat down, grabbed a pen and caught her up on a few things that have been going on in my life, enclosing the photo. I wrote another to a second cousin whose mom had recently passed away—and got a handwritten note back. Each time I stuck a stamp on an envelope and popped it in the mailbox, I felt as if I had accomplished something. I think I’m going to do a lot more of it, even though my handwriting has deteriorated somewhat over the years.

Will letter writing ever completely disappear? Obviously not. But the opportunities for doing it are slowly disappearing. Do kids at summer camp write to their parents anymore? (Hello Muddah, Hello Faddah. . . Hint: You can find it on iTunes.) What a loss if they don’t. Do you even get baby announcements, or just a link to a Facebook page or web site where you can see pictures of the new arrival just moments after birth and Mom looking like she just stepped off the cover of Glamour magazine due to having a makeup artist in the delivery room? You know, I even gave some thought to handwriting this column, but figured I’d hear about it and it wouldn’t be pleasant.

Don’t expect a letter from me anytime soon. But hey, you don’t have to wait. Take a few minutes and write—actually write—a note to someone. It doesn’t have to be Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address on the back of an envelope, although in a pinch, the back of an envelope is as good as anything, as Abe discovered. You might get a text back. Or an e-mail. Or a phone call. But you’ve done your part in preserving a little bit of your personal history. Give yourself a pat on the back.

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