While cleaning up piles of whatevers, I read a quick funny article by Dave Barry on how his son had to ask how to mail a letter, including how to buy a stamp, what to do with it, etc.  I then opened a box on the table and found an envelope full of letters from my grandmother.  The times, they are a’changin’…

My grandmother, my mother’s mother, was widowed in her 20s during the depression and raised her three children with much strength and humor.  She grew up on a farm in southern Oklahoma, married young to an older man, and lived her life as it was.  I was the oldest of her grandchildren and spent time with her from my early infancy, when the story goes that she came to visit and took me home.  I may have been a couple of months old, which doesn’t surprise me.  My mother loved me very much, but she admitted that she didn’t know what to do with this little premature baby and never thought that she shouldn’t let me go with my grandmother.  Anyway, that was the first of my many visits to Ardmore and her visits to Tulsa through my childhood and into my young adult years before my grandmother had to move to a nursing home near us.  She gave me a lot of unconditional love, a lot of wonderful memories, and a lot of everyday wisdom from her simple life.  Here I am when I was 13 on a trip across the border to Mexico with my mother and grandmother.

Scan 2

Growing up in the 50s, we communicated by mail with occasional phone calls.  It was a big deal to make a long distance call, so they weren’t something you did often.  You had to call the operator and give her (always a female) the number so she could ring it.  I remember what a big deal direct dial was – I think I was in college when we got that.  I can remember the first time I made a long distance call.  I snuck into the little closet in the living room where we had the phone and called the operator and gave her my grandmother’s number.  I wasn’t supposed to be doing this and felt very bold.  It cost money and I surely knew my parents would find out and I did it anyway.  I may have been eight.

Anyway, we mostly communicated by letters and we all wrote letters back then.  I kept most of them from my parents when they were traveling, from my grandparents, from my friends, and, especially, from my boyfriend who became my husband as we wrote during college and his Navy years.  The envelope I found yesterday had cards and letters from my Aunt Georgia and Uncle Bill, who sent me cards for my birthdays, and mostly from my grandmother.

I remember so well how exciting it was to get a real letter in the mail.  You waited for the postman, hoping for something addressed to you.  My grandmothers both wrote to me through the years, bless their sweet hearts.  This grandmother wrote often, maybe because she lived alone.  She printed letters to me when I was little, telling me about her day, mostly telling me how much she missed me.  They didn’t have to say much really.  It was the feeling of holding that paper or postcard with the familiar writing that brought up feelings of love.  Here’s one from when I was about 9 years old, telling me about dogs and chickens and her new teeth as only she could.

Scan 4Amazingly, most of the letters in this envelope were written when I was away at college, from my freshman year through my married years.  She didn’t have much money, but she would sometimes include a dollar bill, telling me to get a coke or a hamburger.  Even then I knew that $1 was special.  I think how much those letters must have meant to me as I entered those unknown years away from home, then as I married and became a young mother.  She was always there, sending me notes, often scribbled outside the post office, sometimes written on stationery I had given her for Christmas.  Three cent stamps became five cent stamps as time went on.  She wrote about her quiet world and it brightened my day.

Reading those letters now, when I’m almost as old as she was when she was writing them, I have more of a feeling of how much the letters I wrote to her meant.  She always said how proud she was to get my letters.  How proud.  I don’t know if anyone says that today.  I wrote her all the time during my life and my letters couldn’t have been much more interesting that hers, but I can feel how they brightened her day.  She wasn’t someone I would call lonely although she always lived alone.  I don’t think she would have understood that word.  Her generation wouldn’t have been that self-involved and my grandmother would have said to get out there and do something.

On another note, my grandmother stayed with us when my parents traveled, which they did several times a year.  She would come to Tulsa by bus and we would walk or take the bus downtown while she was with us.  I can remember her saying, “What don’t your parents want us to do?” or “Let’s go do something.”  No sitting around with her.

I’m thinking of the mail I get today, most of which goes directly into the recycling bin.  A couple of times a year I get a note from a friend, but even our generation uses email and Facebook to contact each other.  Why not?  It’s instant and easy.  The term “snail mail” even resonates with us old ‘uns who don’t have much time left and we don’t want to miss anything we can get today!

On the other hand, I’m sad for my grandchildren who don’t know the joy of getting actual mail, something you can hold in your hand, something you can box up to read decades later.  They haven’t learned to cherish handwriting and stamps, opting instead for text messages and Instagram.  Everything is short.  My generation loves Facebook for all the options we have.  My grandchildren like Instagram because they don’t have to express themselves at all except in short, coded messages.  Even a photo lover like me knows that a picture with 1,000 words is worth more than just the picture, not matter how fun it is.

Maybe that’s it.  Letters took time to write, time to mail.  We don’t give the time.  Our handwriting isn’t as nice as earlier generations, our time is measured in milliseconds rather than days, and we just don’t make the effort.  If we send a pre-printed card, we think we’ve done something spectacular.

I’m thinking today that I am going to surprise my grandkids, who start leaving for college in a little over a year, with a letter now and then.  I’m not sure they’ll know how to check their mailbox and they may not even have one, now that I think about it.  I’m going to try anyway.   And, I’ll tuck in a dollar bill, or a five or ten for inflation.  Just to let them know I’m here cheering them on and loving them as unconditionally as I was loved.  And to take them back to a simpler time.