Friday, May 24, 2013
Snail Mail to a Soldier
One of the neat things about reading nonfiction is the unexpected stuff you come across. For instance, in Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Team of Rivals, about Lincoln and his cabinet, I learned that Lincoln successfully pressed the U.S. Post Office to dramatically speed up its delivery so that soldiers fighting the war could receive morale-boosting letters from their families and loved ones.
For any other president, that would have been the crowning achievement of his administration; for Lincoln, it’s a forgotten footnote. I thought it interesting at the time and made a mental note of it, but never expected that it would come to mean something personal to me.
Now that we have a soldier in the family (or more accurately, a soldier in training, since he’s still in basic at Fort Jackson SC), the mail has taken on a new meaning. Soldiers in basic training have next to no access to computers and telephones, so good, old-fashioned snail mail is about their only means of sending and receiving information.
The Letter Written by Hand
Apparently mail call, where the sergeant stands in front of the group and calls out the names of those who received a letter that day, is still a big deal, and the Army really encourages families to write to their soldiers. Before Nick shipped out, we made sure he had a good ruled writing pad, an ample supply of envelopes, and a couple of sheets of Forever stamps, so he could write to us as well.
Whatever else our son may lack, he at least has a father who’s a professional writer and doesn’t mind firing off a letter — enjoys it, in fact. Linda doesn’t write for a living (unless you count final exams), but she’s also comfortable writing a letter. We’re each trying to write twice a week, staggering the mailings so the letters arrive on different days. Nick’s aunts and friends have also said they’ll write.
Back in the Pleistocene, before there was email, I used to write a lot of letters. Mostly I typed them or printed them from a computer. I have a few friends I send long e-mails to, but except for thank-you notes, I hardly ever mail anything handwritten. That’s changing now, because I want the letters I send to Nick to be as personal as possible.
What? You Do Cursive?
I have pretty good penmanship, if I do say so myself. And I don’t; bank tellers are always fawning over my handwriting. I’d never have made it as a doctor, but it comes in handy now. Even though he never learned cursive in school, my son should be able to read what I’ve written to him.
For the letters to Nick, I bought a couple of types of high-quality off-white paper with matching envelopes. That in itself was a revelation. At the best stationery/office supply store in town, they had only a handful of choices in the section of formal letter-writing paper. After all, who sends letters these days?
The letters are written with a Japanese ink-cartridge pen with an old-fashioned nib. Linda got it for me as a wedding anniversary present in March, a few weeks before we learned that Nick was enlisting. It glides over high-quality paper with an effortless smoothness, and I can easily dash off a two-page letter in half an hour. Funny, when I stop to think about it. I’ve been earning a good living as a writer for 40 years but am just now doing my most important work, and I’ll never see a dime in revenue from it. The payoff, however, will be huge.