by Marsha Brandsdorfer
When I was a young girl, for several years, my parents took my two brothers and me on a summer vacation to a “bungalow colony” in Connecticut. This was the 1960s, when we could keep doors unlocked, and run around the grounds to meet with other children. At the end of each vacation week, before returning home, I exchanged addresses with the other little girls I met, so we could keep in touch and write each other letters. Back home, my mother would complain how I was using all her 5¢ stamps to write my new friends, but the scolding did not discourage me.
Throughout the past forty years, I have kept up with writing people I have met through the different places I have visited and lived, and people I encountered through specialized “pen pal” correspondence magazines. Now I often communicate via email, but still there are a few who I write who prefer a handwritten message to be sent through the U.S. Post Office. For those letters, I often post my envelopes with attractive commemorative stamps. Sometimes I enclose stickers, or other small gifts to the recipients of my letters. Just two years ago, I made bookmarks out of used commemorative stamps, which I included in my Christmas cards to friends. I was introduced to First Day Covers (FDCs) when I was in my early 20s by a pen pal who had sent an international FDC in each of his letters to me. Soon I became enthralled with the collecting of FDCs.
As well as being a fun, creative way to communicate, letter writing is important for the telling of history. For instance, there are numerous books which provide a compilation of letters from wars. Where else to get a better understanding of what men and women have gone through fighting in wars, other than by their letters to loved ones? There are also in existence prisoner of war letters, many of which were censored by their capture’s afraid of the power of words, but still these letters remain for the prosperity of history. In the arts, we have Van Gogh’s letters to his brother Theo, and Franz Kafka’s letters to his friends and loved ones. These are just a few of the many examples that give us a better understanding of the thoughts and feelings of great artists and writers.
But now, today, since sending an email or a text message is a faster, more immediate way to communicate, and eliminates the wait for postal delivery, there is a decline in letter writing. Additionally it is cheaper, as a first class letter in the U.S. presently costs 49¢ to mail. However, letters are valuable. They are personalized. They are a part of history. To a collector, stamps and covers can be valuable. It is up to us to keep letter writing a continuing art.