Please Read the Letter

I was coming home from the bookstore (picked up biographies on Washington and Truman), listening to the great new CD by Alison Krauss and Robert Plant, Raising Sand. One of the songs, “Please Read the Letter”, made me stop and think. Does anyone write letters anymore? I know apart from the occasional card – Christmas, birthdays and anniversaries – I don’t write anything in my own hand, that is, not electronically. And in fact, if you took all of the hand-written messages I’ve written in the last few years, I imagine that the entirety of the text wouldn’t fill more than two pages of notebook paper. Maybe I’m wrong but the letter seems to be something that is relegated to antiquity now, as quaint as the pony express and the telegraph. Something that our parents and ancestors did but my generation doesn’t and my children’s generation certainly won’t. It seems weird but I can remember when letter writing was still the most practical and affordable way to communicate with someone long distance. Before email. Before cell phones and inexpensive long distance plans.

Throughout the years there have been many different types of letters. At one point, letters were the only means of communicating with people outside of the town one lived in. Kings would send letters to petitioners (sealed with a special emblem to verify its authenticity) letting them know of decisions that had been rendered. In the American Civil War, orders were sent by letter to far off subordinates or even to subordinates on the same battlefield. Of course, the song that I was listening to referred to that most revered of all letters: the love letter.

I heard a news bit on NPR the other day about a travelling museum exhibition from France that is a collection of love letters; Some were by famous people, some not. I can imagine that texting has replaced the love letter/note for today’s misguided youth. I’m not up with all the texting abbreviations (LOL and WTF are about the extent of my vocabulary) and imagine that any professions of love sent through that medium would be indecipherable to me. I myself, have written a few love letters and notes in my adolescence and I’m sure I would be extremely embarrassed if I could read them now. Teenagers are the worst at writing love letters because everything is so melodramatic for them, being all hopped up on hormones and all. I have vague memories of adolescent attempts at florid language, overwrought emotion and barely disguised sexual innuendo. There was one girl that I “went with” in 8th grade that would go to her father’s house for part of the summer and I remember we exchanged a few missives that were riddled with poetic proclamations of love and expressions of angst at being separated. By the way, “went with” or “going with” is the term we used in school for dating before you were old enough to “date”, which generally meant you were of driving age and could go on “real” dates. “Going with” someone usually involved holding hands between classes, walking home together if you lived near each other and having one of your parents drop you off at the theater for a movie once in a while. Anyway, one of the more embarrassing passages that I can remember writing to her was that I needed her like the Texas Rangers needed a win. I thought this was a pretty heartfelt, emotional and descriptive way to let her know that my love was true. It was only years later that I realized that most girls didn’t really appreciate sports analogies nor did they find them particularly romantic.

With that realization, I gave up my dream of being the first romance novelist to write one novel set around each of the NFL football teams (think of the titles: Passion in Pittsburgh, Dallas Desire, The Bridges of the Baltimore Colts).

Just kidding about that last bit of course.


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