These days, I don't have to wait for USPS to drop off mail at our house. The first thing in the morning and the last thing at night, I am at my computer checking my email. How about you?
I love email. The truth is I love any kind of mail. I have been in love with letters since my dad joined the U.S. Army Air Corps during World War II. My mother wrote to him every night for three years and then we waited and waited for the mailman hoping for a letter from Daddy. That feeling of expectation lingers for me even today.
I have lived most of my life away from my childhood family, first at boarding school while Daddy was away at the war, then at school when I went into the world to seek my fortune and after that, for more than 50 years, with my husband wherever his career took us. Since 1970, we have collected our mail in Chevy Chase, MD.
Mama's letters were precious and covered with purple three-cent stamps as if she was trying to push them to me faster. I have a dozen priceless gems from my father written on oversize yellow legal pads. I have kept them along with letters from our children—particularly the letters from summer camp and, of course, all of Jim's letters to me. One look at the handwriting and the parade of colorful cancelled stamps from three cents to 47 cents is a tender touch with history.
I also relish letters from perfect strangers. Twenty years ago, I stumbled over a dusty box stuffed with a family's papers in the back room of a used book store in Charlotte, NC. After glancing through a few of the letters, I was so intrigued by the stories handwritten by folks who were long dead that I bought the lot. It was a great find for a storyteller. In these letters, strangers told me entrancing tales of birth, death and everyday life...real stories from 1852 to 1940. Since then, I am always on the look-out for old letters.
People sometimes ask me where I find the stories I tell. Now you know one of my favorite sources. What about you? Have you saved special letters?
I hope you will circle Feb. 15 on your calendar. Elizabeth McCain and I are two southern women who share a fascination with letters and their stories. On the 15th, we will tell a program of stories (for grown-ups) drawn from old letters.
Feb. 15, 2012
Chevy Chase, MD