Keeping in Touch
By Rita Maisel
Part of this column began with hearing a radio discussion of the post office strike in Canada and remarks about the upcoming higher postal rates in the United States. Those participating belonged to a younger generation, but their remarks were of interest because they felt no real connection to postal services in either country. They apparently had checking accounts, credit cards and thought of banks as places where you went to use the ATM machines. Salaries went to the bank which automatically paid their bills meaning they had no need for stamps or other post office services.
Then came a telling question about their generational status: when was the last time you wrote or received a snail mail letter? At first no one could remember. Then one of the male participants recalled that when he was in grade school his mother made him write a thank you note to his grandmother. Others thought they might have had a similar experience years ago. Someone asked if Grandma was still alive? Yes, he thought so, but these days she was in assisted living. Maybe he should call her or go and visit her. While many of us might roll our eyes over the discussion, the thought crossed my mind that if they knew there was a listener still working on her Christmas card list which would now be classed as a Valentine or Easter list, they might wonder why on earth I would bother.
The point is that ‘keeping in touch’ was a concept I inherited from earlier generations, and it has a lot of fringe benefits that some today might overlook. As a result, it was really a delight to go to the post office a day or two later and find an “official snail mail” letter in my box. Both the writing paper and the envelope were decorated. The paper had a little gold snail at the top with the words “official snail mail” circling him. The envelope was decorated, and I knew the person who sent it liked stamps since all the letters from her have either seasonal or artistic stamps. She lives in another state, but the letter reached me in two days. It was handwritten, and even though she was ahead of me in school her writing is still more legible than mine. Inside were comments on how much she enjoys getting and sending letters although some of her friends now find writing too difficult. She tries to keep in touch with those by phone.
Like me, she remembers the days when postage cost pennies. I would suspect she also remembers going to the Langdon post office and waiting in line at supper time for the mail to be distributed. Representatives of every family congregated there and visited before going home for supper. If the train had been late the mail would be late getting sorted. Boys waiting for the family mail would edge up to the slot where outgoing mail was deposited and squint though the small opening to see what the mail clerks were doing. The general comment when they turned around was that “he’s still reading all the post cards.” No, all the staff were not male, but the crowd knew who they were talking about and smiled.
In my memory we got some mail every day. It might be a note from an aunt at Hannah telling us they would be coming down for a ball game at the end of the week or a letter from an aunt living in rural Fargo with news of her family. There were little blue V-mail letters from friends and family serving in the war. Sometimes there were sale catalogs from Sears or Montgomery Wards. On rare occasions there might even be a mail-order package with new shoes, a birthday card or gift, maybe a letter from “the old country” which could be Canada or almost anywhere in Europe. If you sent in a postcard that came with the mail-order catalog you could get a free wallpaper book with samples of the wallpaper that firm handled. The colorful pages made great clothes for paper dolls or art projects, and just think, it was free!
After the war we were encouraged to have pen pals from other countries as a way of working toward peace. I do not remember the pen pal’s name from Japan, but the letters were on thin rice paper, and one time they sent miniature pictures of their town to use as bookmarks. Other letters came from people displaced by the war. A Moritz family in Germany wrote to our church because they remembered people with their last name had come to North Dakota. However, the letter was in German, and those who might have known that language did not want to admit they knew how to read “an enemy letter” so the letter came to our house. One aunt could still recite the Lord’s Prayer in German taught to her in an 1890s catechism class, but no one in our family could read cursive German. Down the street was a grandmother whose grandsons came each evening just when the radio program “The Lone Ranger” was being aired. Their grandmother could read German! I was sent to visit her. She would read the letter ,and I was to write down what it said. Bridgit and Max Moritz, a brother and sister, had lost parents and other relatives in the war. Now as teenagers they would like some used clothing, and I believe they also asked if we could send them some coffee. Later we saw their smiling faces on photos taken of them wearing clothes we recognized.
Other pen pals were people we met at camp or church events. One girl who wrote to me lived in a town named Beulah. On maps it looked far, far away. Later I knew her at youth events, and years later she became my roommate at college. We have kept in touch down through the years, so it was not a total surprise that while remembering her, she called last week. Today a card and letter arrived from her retirement home in Arizona. Letters, visits and phone calls are all ways we manage to keep in touch year after year.
My brother, now deceased, was one of those people who thought his life was too busy to write letters. He called it “women’s work,” and some men reading this may have passed letter writing on to their wives or daughters as well. Our mother was an avid letter writer keeping in touch with old friends and new, people she met at clinics when taking medical treatments, or people she knew through church connections. The result was that my brother never had to actually write to anyone at all – until after his wife died. Then he picked up the phone. When he called me, it had been so many years I did not recognize his voice the first time. Still later he took up Facebook which opened other doors for him. Even though he died a couple of years ago, friends in Langdon do mention hearing from him or “friending him” on a regular basis. Those comments may have been circling the Facebook world for a few years.
If you are fortunate enough to receive snail mail from a variety of people, you may find some common themes in their letters. 1. They are busy people. Some have hobbies, have continued long-time interests or taken up new interests. 2. Health issues are often glossed over even while mentioning a spouse, sibling or child who has died. They have a great outlook on life. 3. Most will mention both church and sports. That is interesting because many people tend to miss church because they did not want to miss a game. In other words, they are generally interested in both the world around them as well as in traditional beliefs and a heavenly future. Another question is often: do you still drive? Others may suggest I just run down to WalMart for specific items. When that happens, I know they live in a warmer climate and closer to shopping centers.
Keeping in touch with old friends, and even friends across town, has many benefits. They brighten up your day and may brighten up the day of the friend you call or send a card to. It makes you much less lonely in a world where an increasingly difficult problem for older adults is loneliness. Sending a card or letter is not the only way to keep in touch. One man who had lost most of his hair told me he got up every morning, combed his hair and then called his three sisters. By that time, he knew all the news, so he read a chapter in his Bible and waited for company to arrive. He was seldom disappointed, and some who remember his sense of humor may also remember the same former neighbor. Others go for coffee possibly several times a day and not only keep in touch with others but might belong to a group that solves all the world’s problems even before the rest of the world knows those issues are problems. Whatever you choose, enjoy it. The lady who sent me the snail mail letter mentioned you are not really old until you reach 95, and some of us have a ways to go before we reach that milestone.