I wrote a story a few years ago about a Pleasanton woman who, for a Girl Scout project when she was 11, in 1944, began to write to a Dutch girl living in Rotterdam. How different their two worlds must have been. They continued to write through the years, sharing everyday tales of growing up, getting married and having children, and eventually visited each other. The woman died in March, so it was a total of 62 years of letter writing.
Last year when both my son Pepe and my daughter Zoe were home for Christmas, they enjoyed reading old letters of mine. These were letters I'd written to my parents while I was living overseas. When I lived in Jeddah for four years, my father was sales manager at a printing company in San Jose and he had my correspondence bound in three attractive red volumes - "Letters from Saudi Arabia" - with an introduction he wrote. He had given me 5-1/2- by 8-1/2 inch stationery to use. He retyped letters I wrote to my sister, and he added news clippings, too. Pepe especially loves these volumes because they chronicle his years from ages 3 to 7. I like to remember the shifting sand dunes outside the city, and the call to prayers from the corner mosque that awakened us each morning.
My father was retired when our family later moved to Bangkok but he kept my letters in a box labeled "Letters from Dolores." I'd brought it home some years ago, stuck it into a guestroom closet, and forgotten about it. But Pepe spotted it last year, and he and Zoe enjoyed reading the letters, reliving their childhoods, and seeing our move to Bangkok through my eyes as shared with my parents. And we'd forgotten all about our pet mynah birds.
These days, of course, most correspondence is done through e-mail and telephone calls, which are now affordable. How I wish we'd had e-mail when Pepe came back to the States from Bangkok to go to Stanford. We tried to call but this was before cell phones and we only managed to reach his roommate. They didn't get along; Pepe's only comment about him was: "He makes his bed every day." I faithfully wrote to Pepe every week or so and he wrote back wonderful, long, detailed letters - about twice a year.
Now Pepe lives in Berlin, but thanks to e-mail and instant messaging it sometimes feels like he's in the next room. When he writes long e-letters, I print them out and save them. I talk to Zoe, who is in San Diego, frequently on the phone as well as keeping in touch via brief e-mails but we'll have nothing to read in later years.
Invitations also have gone electronic. Many don't use regular e-mail but go through www.evite.com, which is pretty slick, but not very personal. With e-vite, we not only know who else is planning to attend but what they have to say about it. I was invited to a tamale party last year and, reading the comments, I learned that the party was more about tequila than tamales. Count me in! But I'm glad my friends who give an annual New Year's party still craft a clever invitation each year, create one for each invitee, and leave it at our door. The old-fashioned invitation is so gracious and welcoming.
I assume love letters are still being written the old-fashioned way, but that might be my age showing. Affectionate e-mails are nice, but I don't see how they can replace a love note stuck in a pocket or a snail-mailed card or letter that shows the handwriting of the loved one and actually was once held by him/her. (I'm reading "Love in the Time of Cholera" - perhaps it's altering my perceptions on romance and love letters.)
I know kids write to our troops overseas so I guess they still learn to write letters in school. But do they still have pen pals - or are they now e-pals?
-Dolores Fox Ciardelli can be e-mailed at editor@DanvilleWeekly.com.