DEAD LETTER OFFICE
The other day the newspaper in the big town up the road devoted its daily web poll to inquiring of John Q. Public how recently he had written a letter. Respondents could choose from a myriad of choices ranging from “I mailed a letter this week” to “I’ve never written a letter”. And, for once, every proffered response received at least one vote.
Myself, I hastily indicated that I had mailed a letter that week, and then was stricken with remorse when I realized that, although I had written a letter, it repined still on my desk, and that I had not yet mailed it. I was going to Hell! (Sorry for the outburst—I’ve been reading Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man). Though the responses to the poll were rather scattershot, they were marginally less discouraging to penfriend hobbyists such as myself than one might expect; the “I mailed a letter this week” crowd just about matched “I’ve never written a letter”, “I’ve written a letter this month” vote was close to “It’s been years”, and so forth, with the intermediate categories being the biggest, thus producing a quintessential bell curve.
I once read an article by a religious man on a college faculty who observed that his colleagues did not seem to be particularly hostile to his religiosity, but they did look upon it as some sort of queer hobby, like butterfly collecting. I get a similar reaction on the rare occasions when the opportunity arises to describe my correspondence hobby, though I am at least spared the disbelief verging on social ostracism which is evident when I tell them that I don’t have a cell phone, or a Facebook account.
Retro I may be, but I’m under no illusions that the letter-lover was ever in much better shape for soothing that mailbox jones than she is today—yes, in my experience the male penfriend is pretty much extinct. I suppose that there once was a time when one expected, or at least hoped, to receive a letter every day, but if so, that era was before my lifetime; in the Swinging Sixties when I was a lad, if memory serves, we may have averaged one a month, though of the letter’s attenuated cousin the Christmas card (to speak of endangered species) there were many.
But just as our primitive forbears were said to have passed down the generations ancestral tales of great heroes and monsters and derringdo, I had always my mum to tell me of the golden era of letter writing when she was a girl. When I would bring in yet another disappointing haul of mail, she would sympathize and tell me how I deserved to have grown up in the thirties, when there were two mail deliveries a day. And then, after a long pause for effect: “Except on Sunday—then there was only one”. Some people really can twist the knife.