In 1981, Brian and I started a new life chapter with a move to Fountain County, Indiana. We each were excited for different reasons. Brian would transition from school teacher to administrator. His new salary of $22,000, an enormous figure to us (even though he would be working insanely long hours), meant that I was headed to college full time to complete a journalism degree.
It didn’t take long that late summer and early fall to connect with one Gay Kirkton, English teacher and wife of football coach Rick Kirkton.
Plans were made to get together at our house on a Saturday night. Maybe I cooked supper for all four of us, but that I don’t remember. We didn’t play cards or games but instead, we talked and got to know each other. If memory serves, the sun was about to come up before the evening-turned-morning ended. We had that much to say and the conversation has not stopped since.
The clearest memory I have regarding that evening didn’t happen that night at all, however, but arrived in our mailbox a few days later. It was a handwritten card from Gay thanking us for having them over and saying what a lovely time she and Rick had enjoyed. They hoped, in fact, to get together again soon.
What? They liked us, they really liked us!
I’m certain that somewhere in my personal archives, I have that card, composed in perfect penmanship, a textbook example of the warmth, hospitality, and encouragement found in a budding friendship – and in a thank you note.
Years later, when writer Joyce Maynard asked us what we would do for a living if we could do anything we wanted, Gay had a quick answer: She would be the social secretary for a First Lady.
I had never heard her voice this before but it was perfect! She would be ideal for such a role in every way that I could imagine. I had evidence in the stash of flawless, handwritten notes received to mark numerous occasions.
She still sends them.
Gay’s not the only one, either. There’s a good chance that someone reading this post (and I know of one in particular to whom this applies for certain, Debbie) are modern women by any measure, but they still prefer instead of a quick email a lovely piece of stationery inserted into a coordinating envelope, sealed, stamped in the front right-hand corner, mailed, then delivered to the recipient via the U.S. Postal Service.
I know this because I get these beauties at work, and I get them at home. And each time, when the mail carrier delivers such a treat, I can’t wait long enough to find a proper letter opener, but instead, tear open the envelope and as fast as I can, read the words someone has cared enough to offer.
For years, I assembled the work notes into large, red scrapbooks which are still shelved alongside our books. For a couple of years now, I’ve papered the front of my work station divider with the notes and letters and cards that newspaper readers have been so kind to mail. This is the beauty of being a community columnist and feature writer: touching other people, connecting with them, and sharing their stories.
At home, I have a special tray in a bedroom that serves as a default book office. The tray holds the thank yous book readers are thoughtful to send when I have spoken to their group or banquet, or the letters they have written telling me about enjoying one of my books, or they share a particular story such as how a husband and wife read my second book together aloud daily until they were finished.
If I ever need a reason as to why I have spent my career at newspapers, or why I wrote two books, or why I am grateful that I have been given the opportunities I have, or presented the cast of characters that fill my life, all I have to do is look at what people have written by hand and sent in my direction.
Yep, those are going to the nursing home with me.
On the other hand ... I’m okay at sending greetings, but no better than okay. I don’t much care for doing up Christmas cards anymore and I failed miserably at that task last year.
Sometimes I remember that I need to select a special greeting card for an occasion, and mentally, lazily I groan at the effort involved. Other times I forget and the card or the note are never sent.
As are most, I’m prone to express my sentiments with emails or social media posts.
What I know is that what is least common is most appreciated. It used to be the rare thing to get a beautiful email or text message. Now what is rare is the hand-addressed envelope with a personal message tucked inside.
Long live thank yous, letters, greetings, and other assorted messages that arrive the hard way, take the long route, the way of ink and stamps and time spent securing their passage.
They are jewels in the world of correspondence, relics perhaps from an another era, their effort preserved by a determined few.
How about you? Do you send or receive cards, notes, or letters the old-fashioned way? Do tell.
Donna Cronk is author of two novels, Sweetland of Liberty Bed & Breakfast and That Sweet Place: At Home in the Heartland. They are available on Amazon in print or for Kindle, and from the author.