Columnist Carl Kline: Letter writing has become a lost art

I have a friend who is a very creative letter writer. Her script is quite artistic and what she communicates is always thoughtful and informative. But another of her letter writing habits is the most remarkable and unique. She always makes her own envelopes. She will take a heavy page out of a magazine with an interesting picture on it, fold it appropriately and seal it with tape. Remove the tape to read what’s inside and unfold the picture for an added gift.

These days, it’s unusual to get an actual letter in the mail. You know, the kind where someone actually takes pen and paper; writes the latest news from the family and work; maybe shares a bit of home spun philosophy; signs and seals it and drops it in the mailbox.

I’ve come to the conclusion the only reason the post office still exists is to deliver my monthly bills, solicitations, and the local paper. Let me take those one at a time.

It may be my imagination, but it seems the due dates on my bills get shorter and shorter. There’s not much time from when the bill arrives by mail to get the payment back in the mail; without a late fee. Perhaps the Post Office is slow; or perhaps the creditor wants me to pay on the internet and save them the hassle of opening envelopes and cashing checks. In fact, several have suggested they simply take the money from my bank account every month and save us all the extra effort. Old as I am, there was a time when I took the cash or check to pay for a service and handed it to a person. Just like that! Person to person; no Post Office or virtual space between us!

Solicitations arrive daily, in bunches. It’s especially concerning to receive so many requests for donations from environmental organizations. They are using more trees than they are saving. These requests arrive with regularity, usually offering gifts with a donation of $25 or more. The gift is often a tote bag. Several hang in our back entry way and others are scattered around the house. One recent return envelope was addressed to the name of the organization and then, “Gift Processing Center.” The solicitations often include return address labels. I like them, often with pictures of butterflies or polar bears, but I’m trying to decide how to use them, since no one writes letters anymore, including yours truly.

A recent mail solicitation made a point of saying they refused to call me on the phone. That would be too much of an imposition. After all, it might be my dinner time. Should I return their donation form, I could check the box that says, “Thank you for not turning my name over to a telemarketer.” This is the same outfit who after a one-ime donation, has flooded our mail box with requests for more; two arriving last week on consecutive days. They have spent more on paper and postage than I contributed!

Using the post office to deliver the local paper is a relatively new development in our community. I guess the days of the newspaper boy or girl are gone. There was something significant about doing that task as a kid. It was my job for several years when I was young. It was an education in working for wages. It could also be physically challenging to throw the paper on the porch, not in the bushes, especially when riding a bike. You met all kinds of people when you went to collect, including those who never seemed to be at home, or at least never came to the door. Since you were responsible for collecting and it impacted your wages, those folks could make your life difficult. Others were more than supportive with tips and praise.

Maybe the life of the post office is limited. When one thinks about it, we have come a long way from the Pony Express.

Perhaps we will look back on this era of mail as just as quaint. I did get a “letter” from a friend yesterday in my email. It was long and thoughtful and informative. It was in my email along with a number of bills, solicitations, spam and scams.

Letters are good. Email is OK. But it’s difficult to replace face to face interaction and communication. I see in my mind’s eye a picture from a long ago film; two people sitting with each other in space with the quotation; “And for those moments, they were the whole world for each other.” I’d even like to pay my electric bill that way.