Thursday, August 26, 2010

Like Neon Ice Cream

Yesterday I received two pieces of personal mail. Both replies to letters I'd sent, these letters were sweet surprises: even as my "sent" number has reached almost 150, my mailbox most often yields a disappointing pile of bills, catalogs and other obligations and junk. What I believed at the beginning of The Letter Jar project is not becoming any less true--with ever more of our written, personal communication handled by text and e-mail the old fashioned mailbox is now the franchise of official, "boring" mail.

So much so that a personal letter stands out like a tub of neon-colored bubble gum-flavor amid the vanillas and chocolates at the ice cream parlor.

One letter was from my high school journalism teacher, who thanked me for my letter but also filled me in on her life--knowing how hard as she and so many of my teachers worked, it elated me to read that she was enjoying a retirement full of family and travel and personal passions. "As a teacher it is always wonderful to see previous students excel in their personal areas of interest," she wrote. "Only about a half dozen of my previous newspaper students have gone into some form of journalism--I'm glad to hear your career has been successful."

The other letter was something of a two-tiered surprise--I was excited at first to see another personally addressed envelope in my stack of mail, but then recognized it as one I'd self-addressed and stamped. I'd written a letter to D, a long-lost former work colleague in Iowa, and when it came time to send it, I'd chosen an address from three listed for people with his name in his medium-sized community. (Thankfully someone had given me a tip about the side of town on which my friend was rumored to have bought a house--that, along with the resident age information lists with its addresses, fueled my process of elimination. Once again the Internet came to the rescue of my 19th century project.) On the chance that I'd chosen the wrong D, however, I stuck a note to the letter asking that they please return it to me in the enclosed envelope.

I sent the letter to the wrong D, I lamented when I recognized my own handwriting.

My excitement returned when I opened the envelope to find a letter--from the right D, who had very wisely used my envelope to mail his reply. His letter was newsy and upbeat, the latter of which was notable considering D had recently been laid off from the company where we had both worked. "The layoff has given me more time to spend with friends and goof off. I've gotten into better shape being away from Vendoland junk food. I've had moments of despair over the past year (What am I going to do with my life? Blah blah blah) but overall things are good. There are people who have it a lot worse than I do."

D's letter would have been a treat at any time, but I especially appreciated his words--and more specifically, his wisdom--at the end of yesterday, a particularly long and trying day. Finding personal letters in the mail everyday could very well be wonderful, but perhaps there's something to be said as well for spying that bubble gum just when you have a taste for it.

DUTY CALLED: When a nasty stomach bug felled my son and husband--but thankfully spared me so that I could take care of them--The Letter Jar blog--and indeed, The Letter Jar project--went on a two-week hiatus. The law of opposites helps me to be unworried about making my 365 letter goal--for as extraordinarily exhausted as I've been recently, surely there will be a corresponding time in the next 26 weeks when I'll find myself especially energetic.

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