Why do I make cards? My friend Mia brought back around to me the art and love of note-writing. I’m of a generation that grew up writing thank you notes to relatives for Christmas and birthday presents. When I was 9 my family moved across the country and I wrote letters to my best friend, Jenny, whom I had left behind. Letter writing was a thing you did to keep in touch with people. Along came computers and email and the internet, and letter writing began to slowly fade from regular practice. Like any good parent, I forced my kids to write thank you notes after Christmas for a few years, but pretty soon they answered with “I already sent Grammy an email” and I found unstable ground beneath my previously stubborn feet. Thanks to social media, our kids were communicating with their grandparents and aunts and uncles and cousins with far more regularity than I ever did. It wasn’t immediately clear to me why I was arguing the value of sending a hand-written letter over an email. It would take ten times as long to write and a million times longer to travel around the country. It took time and resources. I began to let go of the slow cumbersome practice of letter writing myself. Email was immediate. I could share thoughts instantly and know that they would be received at like speed. If not for a few hold-out relatives who have not yet embraced the electronic world, I would have forgotten about letter writing entirely.
Enter Mia. When our daughters were babies, my friendship with Mia began. We swapped childcare and we and our daughters instantly bonded. As our girls grew up we had more time for adventures in the woods together. We share a love for the outdoors and exercise, and so we have logged a lot of time together on the trails around our mountain town. I noticed that early in our friendship, I would find the occasional wee envelope in the mail from Mia. Inside would be a sweet card with a brief note expressing her gratitude for the fun adventure we had just shared. I’d likely see her the next day or the day after, so the note was not a necessary means for staying in touch. But what a treat to pull it out of the mailbox. To slice open the paper envelope. To hold the little card in my hands, savor the enticing sketch or watercolor on the front, and to read her reflections. The thought and time Mia took to do this small but thoughtful thing brought immeasurable depth to our relationship. I felt valued. And inspired. I began to increase my practice of note writing, too. I noticed that people were delighted and surprised to get a message in the mail. It had become such an unexpected thing.
Awhile back, Mia and I made a date with our now adult daughters. We sat around the woodstove and chatted and had dinner and shared wine. Mia and I are both caring for aging parents, and both engaged in the process of going through their things as they downsize to smaller spaces. We made promises to our daughters that we would spare them the horrid process of someday having to go through so much of our stuff. We also discovered that we had both been rewarded in this cumbersome task of going through decades of acquired belongings: the unexpected stack of cherished and beautiful letters written by, and to, our parents and grandparents and great-grandparents. Ink on paper, in careful cursive, revealing that day’s or that week’s challenges and delights. A summons to contest was put forth around the woodstove and emptying wine glasses that evening: the four of us put our names in a hat, and then drew one out. We were to write a letter, by hand, to the person whose name we drew. Our girls, busy with college courses and adult life, rolled their eyes at us a little, but they agreed. By coincidence, Mia and I both secretly decided we’d write letters to not just the person whose name we picked, but the folks whose names we didn’t pick as well, knowing that in a few days or weeks, mailbox surprises would be revealed.
It’s the charm and aesthetic of hand-written ink on paper. The quiet thrill of pulling that envelope out of the mailbox. The way it slows everything down as you stand there with your letter while the rest of the world swirls at break-neck pace around you. A short-lived thing, perhaps, as these days a card or hand-written letter will most likely end up in the woodstove or recycling bin. But there is also a chance that it could survive long enough to become a found treasure by some future, as yet unborn, three generations out, relative sharing an evening with her friends and daughters. This is why we write letters. This is why I make cards.