Words: More than a Few Letters

image2 (1)So far we’ve survived #winterpocalypse2018 up here in the mountains. Not that we didn’t think we would. We’re pretty self-sufficient and prepared folks. We aren’t those people who wait until two hours before whatever the current disaster is to head to town to fetch our milk and bread whether we need it or not. In fact, I caused one of the nice deli ladies at my local market to nearly fall over in stitches day before when I took it upon myself to take pictures of the empty shelves then explain to her I was raised in the Midwest where we aren’t afraid of a little arctic blow and I was once known to drive to work pushing snow with the bumper of my little Dodge something-or-other. No biggie! So, why was I in the store to begin with? Not to get hot cocoa mix, I can assure you of that. Good thing, too. Of all things, they were completely out of that item. No, I needed guacamole. And, as a sidebar, it was fun watching the amount of crazy going on, which surprised me quite honestly out of mountain folk. People watching is sometimes a writer’s best friend so I was happily taking notes in my handy-dandy notebook which goes everywhere I do. I digress, however…

See? If I don’t watch my happy southern soul, I get sidetracked and go off on tangents. Most of my readers who followed me some years ago and have kept up with me since and now know where to find me here know this. They’re used to that and I pray thee anyone just joining in gets used to it as well and sees it as a forgivable sin. That being said, the title of this little update does in fact have to do with #snowmageddon.

Words are indeed more than a few letters. But not in the sense you might think I’m implying.

We live in a valley between a couple of mountain ranges and as such we escape the worst of whatever weather we’re experiencing on any given day for the most part. That’s not to say we went unscathed of Diego’s wrath. We have had a significant amount of precip in the forms of varying winter mix: snow, sleet, slush, freezing rain, something unidentifiable that came down sideways at one point, wind, and something fog-like. That being said, early this morning our power grid finally gave up on us and we were left in the dark, mostly. While we didn’t have electricity, we, like the prepared people I hinted that we are, had the lanterns at the ready, had our generators staged in the event we would need to plug up a few things, and our propane tank is topped off so we were able to run our gas fireplace to stay nice and toasty during the festivities. All that being said, what does one do for entertainment when thrown back basically prior to circa 1870ish?

image1 (3)I chose to sit at my desk and address the Christmas cards, which I’m running horribly late at having ready to put into the mail this year. Addressing the cards is the least of getting the cards ready, however. You see, I’m one of those people who is holding on to the last vestiges of written communications through the penning of real handwritten letters. Each of my Christmas cards will have a personalized letter inside, not a printed, blanket-type newsletter, generic in nature. (Not that there’s a thing wrong with those! I’m grateful to hear from my people in any capacity.) I relish this task! It’s not for everyone, but it’s part and parcel of who I am. Christmas isn’t the only time I hand-write notes. I send them to people throughout the year. I’m also notorious for sending out “thinking of you” cards year ‘round and handwriting thank you notes when someone does something thoughtful for us. It saddens me that the art of letter writing seems to be dying in lieu of all the techno-communications available to us. Hogwash, I say! We should all own a lovely set of stationery and an elegant pen and pencil set to match.

I can remember being in the fourth or fifth grade and finding my very first pen pal in the list of dozens of other kids who’d submitted their desire to participate in the program to connect kids from all over the US and the world through the exchange of regular handwritten correspondence. How exciting it was getting that first letter in reply to my tentative “hello, my name is…” Then in sixth grade, one of my best friends moved from our rural town all the way to Muskogee. Grits and gravy! She’d really left the farm to be sure. We exchanged addresses and we corresponded for many years through letters and cards. During my sophomore year in high school, I was nominated to participate in the Hugh O’Brian Youth Leadership (HOBY) program. I went away from home for an entire weekend alone for the first time ever and met the most amazing group of kids and many of us kept in contact well into adulthood through, you guessed it, handwritten letters. Soon after that, adulthood set in, but old habits die hard, and in the case of keeping up with my letter writing I’m grateful for that problem.

When I moved away after I’d married the military, my grandmother and I kept in touch by writing each other regularly. Sometimes I’d get a letter from her more than once a week. She’d send newspaper articles from our hometown, recipes written in her own hand, cards, bible quotes, gossip…you name it, it was enclosed in those precious envelopes I dearly treasured. That’s not to say at that point the internet was just coming of age and I could have gleaned the local newspaper archives via online and caught up on most gossip with the amazing new social platform Myspace (honestly, even then I was too old to be seen there legitimately). Another thing that happened during those military coming of age years was that we moved, a lot. As a result, I was constantly exchanges addresses with all my wifey girlfriends so we could keep in touch (this was post-Myspace but pre-FB and definitely pre-Skype).

As you can well imagine, over the years my Christmas card list has grown and grown and grown. I correspond with our military family members and civilian friends all over the country. Add them into the list of blood family I have in the address book and, well, grits and gravy! I don’t just touch base with all these folks this one time of the year, either. I send Easter cards and New Year greetings, birthday cards and anniversary cards, sympathy notes, congratulatory letters, and Hanukkah well wishes. I am a true believer in the power of sending someone a handwritten note. I know the handwritten notes I’ve received over the years from family, adopted family and friends over the years touched my heart in ways I cannot describe. The letters, so much more than words, comforted, uplifted, gave the pat on the back I needed, sent a hug, and brought me so many smiles and tears over the years. I cannot fully tell you the depth these thoughtful gestures, a piece of someone by their own hand, their handwriting, touched me. The words, so much more than letters, meant the world. I’m so grateful to have some of these treasures tucked away in a box now. I can open them and for a few brief moments I can have a piece of someone I miss in my palm. My grandmother, who is no longer with us. My auntie, who has also joined her on the other side. Countless others who have gone, but I still have tangible proof they made my life more joyful through their effort to remain in contact.

This one time of the year, the holiday season as it is known, the impact of my correspondence list hits me hardest in the feels. Maybe it’s the nostalgia of this time of year that makes it so. I’ve never taken a single soul’s address from my book even as I’ve had to buy new ones over the years to accommodate the ever-growing list. As I went through the book this afternoon by lantern light, addressing my envelopes in front of the fireplace, I smiled, laughed, and even teared up at the names I saw there. The keepers of the written word. Those who have kept me company over the years. I saw who’d moved, again. I saw who had a new baby to offer congratulations for or who has a son or daughter going away to college this next year that I can offer a few words of wisdom. I saw who we’ve lost and I can no longer send a card or letter to. I cherish my address book. I cherish each person residing within. I cherish each piece of correspondence that’s come from this list.

The lights are back on this afternoon and the envelopes are addressed. But the best part is yet to come; the business of writing the notes to go inside. A piece of me, by my own handwriting, which I hope offers someone something which I’ve been afforded over the years. I wish for the recipients comfort, congratulations, advice, a laugh or two, joy, a pat on the back, a hug.

Words are indeed so much more than a few letters.


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