Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to say good-bye to a dear and longtime friend the personal letter.
Okay, so the personal letter is not dead but her breathing is getting raspy.
It doesn't seem like so many years ago when the daily mail brought more than just bills and junk. The mail included personal letters from friends and loved ones.
When I was a kid people didn't make long distance calls unless it was for something important - often bad news. (If a call came after 10 p.m. it was most certainly bad news.) Keeping up with friends and family was normally done through handwritten letters.
My earliest postal memories are of walking to the rural mailbox sitting atop a post on the side of the gravel road, retrieving the mail and bringing it into the house. The mail might include a daily newspaper, the latest issue of Wallace's Farmer, a new Sears & Roebuck catalog, a bill and, hopefully, a personal letter. Maybe two.
When the time was right the mail also included birthday cards, some of which included a stick of chewing gum and a couple of dimes.
Mom usually read letters from relatives aloud at the table while the rest of the family ate dinner. This was a time to find out who was sick, who was pregnant, who was sick because they were pregnant, who was having marital problems and who was coming for dinner next Sunday. I can recall at least one occasion where the Sunday dinner guests arrived before their letter of intent.
We knew the news was juicy when Mom began translating a passage of a letter into German for Dad.
My letter writing skills were honed on cousins and grandparents. They all started out the same: "Dear Opa and Oma. How are you? I am fine"
While I plead guilty to having written a few letters to girls, I found those the most difficult to write. Somehow a young man's passions are difficult to put on paper. Most young guys don't know how to translate "Hey, Baby, I really like your hot bod" into a charming and appropriate phrase.
When my wife and I first moved away from our home area I began a habit of writing letters to my parents. Too cheap (and too broke) to call by long-distance regularly, I tried writing once a week. Mom reciprocated and for many years there was a regular exchange of letters between wherever I lived and my parents' home.
These days I visit with my mother by telephone at least weekly. However, I still enjoy retrieving from the mailbox an envelope with my mother's familiar (and nearly perfect) handwriting.
I'm as guilty as anyone else when it comes to not writing letters these days. While I regularly exchange e-mails, I'm down to one personal letter correspondent.
My mother's cousin lives near the Dutch border in Germany in the community where my grandfather was born. Hildegard and my mother regularly visit in Low German by telephone, but my German is so weak it is difficult to converse for any length of time; particularly by telephone.
Hildegard doesn't use e-mail so she and I communicate with occasional letters. We correspond in German for which I liberally use Google Translator. If I have made a fool of myself with my attempts at writing in German, Hildegard hasn't told me yet.
Perhaps in learning all the proper elements of writing letters in the classroom we lost sight of the main reason for writing letters to share a little bit of ourselves with someone else. In that regard, it isn't the physical letter that we enjoy so much as the contact from someone we love and appreciate.
Today we can do that with letters, e-mails, texts, Facebook and other social media. Who knows what kinds of communication the future will bring?
Meanwhile, I hypocritically wax nostalgic for personal letters.
"What a wonderful thing is the mail," someone wrote, "capable of conveying across continents a warm human hand-clasp."