Since I started blogging, the post that has received the most amount of views is my post Hey … vs. The Love Letter. It has received over 4,000 views and that’s without being freshly pressed — when a blogger’s post is hand-picked by the WordPress editors and prominently displayed on the website’s front portal.
Now, I don’t know if people read all the way through my post, but it goes to show that there are those out there that still believe in love letters and the power of the written word for the sake of romance. In spite of advances in technology.
In this post, written in January during National Letter Writing Week, I pondered if my generation, the Gen Xers, will indeed be the last that will pen physical, hand-written love notes, or even letters in general. Call me old-fashioned with my fears. I don’t like the notion of how texting is replacing plain talking, or how e-book readers are replacing paper books. But fearing new technologies is nothing new. Even the invention of the printing press brought on apprehension. In fact, a character in Victor Hugo’s proclaimed medieval novel Notre Dame de Paris states that the invention of the printing press would kill architecture, the way humans communicate. I wish that Victor would have stuck around long enough to see the works of Frank Lloyd Wright or Frank Gehry.
But here’s where I back up my point that sometimes old-fashioned ways, like letter writing, can’t be replaced:
Last summer, at a prolonged stay at my parent’s house, I got, well, bored. So, I started snooping through the closet in my brother’s old room (sorry, bro!). In an accordion filing folder, I found some very old letters. Letters with two separate penmanship: one so flowery it should be regarded as an art form, the other, more masculine and primitive.
Love letters. Between my grandparents. Way before they were great-grandparents or even parents.
I don’t think that two people were more madly and crazy in love than my grandparents. Or fought as much as my grandparents. I mean fights that involved throwing a can of corn across the room or driving away from a family dinner all the way back to Brooklyn fights. But they still flirted with each other all the way into their 80′s.
But even into their 80′s, they still flirted with each other. At family gatherings, my grandfather would take me around, point to my grandmother, and whisper to me “Hey, aint she cute? Ain’t she sweet? She’s all mine.”
My grandparents had two anniversaries. One,was when they eloped in September 1939. They actually ran away in the middle of the night, headed upstate New York, and found a justice of the peace to marry them. An asthmatic one at that. I remember my grandmother recounting the ceremony, mimicking how the justice wheezed between reciting the vows. That was the anniversary my grandfather recognized.
Afterwords, none of my great-grandparents approved to this elopement. And I think the way it went was that my grandparents were not allowed to cohabit until they had a proper Jewish wedding, which happened three months later. That’s the anniversary my grandmother recognized.
So, in these letters, I found one from my grandfather, Milton, that I think contained my grandfather’s plot to take my grandmother, Pauline, away to get hitched.
Dated August 29, 1938 my grandfather writes
I received your second letter this morning after I sent my fourth. I got my days changed to Sunday and Monday off. (Grandpa worked night shifts for the New York Daily News). That goes into effect this Tuesday. Find our all the arrangements for Saturday, September 7, so that we don’t get mixed up. Try and come in early enough to get to the shower (?) about 9:30 but don’t forget to allow some sleep as I’ll be working Saturday morning. Will they be surprised?! Boy, oh Boy!
Some talk about my grandmother being away somewhere…. I don’t understand that part, but then….
I found lipstick on my blue tie that I wore Saturday nite but I won’t make any attempt to clean it……I’ll see you Saturday night and then all day Sunday and Monday and don’t go kick me home early….
and …after a bit of more plotting and even some sqabbling about my grandmother “putting on airs” the last time they met…
“You don’t know what a funny, but a lost feeling I get when I see a couple on the street or a couple kissing or a fellow saying I got a date. Nobody loves me except you. ….I love you alone, Milton.”
Then, I find a letter from my grandmother, not dated. But even back then, and they must have been in their late teens, my grandmother was nudging my grandpa about his health:
“I won’t see you on the nights you can’t manage to get your eight or nine (NINE??) hours of sleep each day. Your also going to watch your diet closely. Believe you me!”
And on the letters and their love went, for 67 years. By the way, My grandfather, a second generation photo engraver for the New York Daily News, was in fact a victim of new technology. In 1982, he was given a buy-out package along with the other photo engravers at the New York Daily News.
His job was being replaced by something called…. the laser printer.
“No one is around, I’ve tried to get in touch with everyone I know and no one is calling or texting me back to hang out or talk or do anything!” I empathized with her angst. Hanging out just with the members of the family, all friendless and all, can be such a chore.
So, I asked her who she left messages with, who she called asking to make plans.
Her reply was, “Well, I didn’t exactly ask if anyone wanted to get together. I just texted ‘Hey’ to a bunch of people. No one has replied.”
Obviously, in the texting generation, “hey” seems to carry more weight and meaning than its three letters imply. It might simply mean “hello!” Or it might mean
“what are you doing?”
“do you want to get together?”
or, maybe, even
“I really like you.”
That is a lot to figure out for this upcoming generation of few words.
WordPress recently asked, as part of its daily blogging suggestions,
“Would you rather talk or text?”
For me, I’d rather talk. Or better yet, I would choose to write.
I do understand that texting can be convenient, such as when held up in a meeting and you need to get a succinct message out, like, “I’ll be late for dinner or daycare pickup.”
But, I would still prefer to hear the lilt, happiness or sadness in the voice of a friend or a loved one to better understand where they are coming from. Nothing beats a phone conversation when you want to get to the bottom of things quickly.
Sometimes, though, it’s the anticipation of that special letter that makes communication all the more sweeter. This week is National Letter Writing Week. That’s right. The kind of communication that requires a stamp. And ink from something called a pen.
When was the last time you received a love letter? When did you last wait days for that all-important message? Without that longing, songs like “Hey Mr. Postman” would never have been written.
If mere phone conversations and emails are dying away to curt, cryptic texts, then our culture may have seen our last generation of love letter writers.
I’m glad that technology did not arrive in time to deprive me of my letters. They are in a shoebox decorated with wrapping paper. Eighteen months worth of letters that document hopes and longings of my husband and I when we were just starting out. He was in California, I was in New York. He was in grad school, I was in an entry-level job I hated. Each of these handwritten letters — some short, some long — took days to cross the continent and we waited with anticipation for them to arrive in our mailboxes. And, by slowing down to write things out, we said things that we could never say to each other in a long distance phone conversation. Some of the dreams we put on paper, things we wouldn’t dare say when we were long distance dating, are a testament to our life today, our life with the three kids and the house. The house that holds a shoebox of old love letters.
In the digital age of bits and bytes, where will today’s young lovers store their earliest expressions of affection?