One day I stepped outside to check the mail and found myself wishing that a letter from my pen pal was waiting for me. Although I don’t have a pen pal, I could imagine her clearly: she would be a British governess, preferably living in the 19th century. Her name would be Gert Maplethorpe. She would write letters to me by candlelight, after the children had been put to bed. The feather on her pen would be from an exotic bird that her sea captain uncle speared during a voyage to the Far East for silks and spices. She would speak each word aloud as she wrote and would sit with the most upright posture at her desk, or secretary, as she would call it. She would comment on my letters, saying things like, “How lovely that the pugs got a scrub and, yes, I agree with you that it is most peculiar that your husband insists on bathing himself while he bathes the pugs. Does he not fear typhus?”
Sadly, I do not have a Gert Maplethorpe in my life. I tried to find one online, but all Google gave me was prisonpenpals.com.
I have always wanted to be a letter writer. Thoughtful people write letters. Like the lady I dumped a plate of enchiladas on, when I was a waitress at Laura’s Mexican Patio. She was part of the Sunday church crowd and was wearing a pretty dress. Of course she was wearing nice clothes. I apologized fifty times, touched her inappropriately as I tried to scoop the food off her breasts, and told her that she must let me pay the dry cleaning bill.* I gave her my address, but instead of a bill, she sent me a kind letter. She wrote that she didn’t need a dry cleaner after all, that she was able to remove the enchilada stains with soda water. She thanked me for my concern and even made a joke about how she’ll watch out for flying plates of food from now on. Classy lady, that one.
What is it about a handwritten letter that is so special? Growing up, I lived far away from extended family. Back when long distance phone calls were a big deal, we kept in touch through mail. I can still picture all four of my aunts’ handwriting. Barbara’s artistic lettering, Sonja’s trendy bubble-like letters, Karen’s quick scrawl, Lori’s small, pretty cursive. I would read their letters multiple times and look at the pictures of cousins I barely knew.
Going out to check the mail, I always know when I’ve got a personal letter, even before I see the return address and even if the envelopment is regular white. I guess it’s something in the shape of the handwriting that clues me in. At my childhood home, we had to walk down a path to get to the mailbox. Whenever the mail brought a real letter, I would come close to tearing into it at the mailbox, but I usually restrained. Instead, I waited to read the letter until I was inside and seated comfortably.**
I’m writing all this to say that I like letters, I like the post office, and I am going to become a letter writer. My plan is to write one letter per month. And guess what, I have already written and mailed my first letter, to the Lifesavers group. It’s technically a letter of complaint, but it’s a fake complaint that contains several very real compliments for Lifesavers. And I know I just went on and on about how good it feels to get nice letters, and trust me, while my ultimate goal is to send out good vibration letters that make everyone feel loved and important, this first letter is not that.
Oh, and because I got the bum Lifesaver at work, I wrote this letter in the voice of Ched, who is my co-worker Thad‘s alter ego that I made up for him. Upon reading this letter, Thad asked me in a weary tone why I feel the need to involve him in my stupid ideas. I’m just glad I saved that half a mint.
My name is Ched Smeth. I love your mints, but today I got one that was only half a mint. You might think it’s not a big deal, but it was. I work in an office where we have a communal bowl of mints. My boss Jen Henter got onto me about eating all the mints and now there is an office policy that states we can only have one mint per hour. The bowl is in the front of the room and everybody watches me closely to make sure I don’t take more than one. Needless to say, I look forward to my one mint per hour. I relish the way the famous lifesaver shape feels in my mouth. I don’t want half a lifesaver. Getting this bum lifesaver ruined my hour. Please have your factory workers be more careful when they are wrapping the mints.
Ched A. Smeth
*This was a situation where I merely repeated something I’d heard on the TV, because it felt like the right thing to say. I had no idea what dry cleaning entailed or if I could even afford what I was promising. I’m still not clear on what dry cleaning is supposed to do. My mom’s dog Foxy gave birth to her puppy, Bear, on my favorite dress, and I figured that the dry cleaner, if anyone, would be able to remove the placenta stains. That was not the case, but the remaining stains came back faded in such a way that they blended with the fabric and the dress was still wearable. The dry cleaner kind of saved the day.
**I have a similar ritual for pizza. Neither Brent nor I are allowed to open the pizza until we get it home and we’re on the couch with a movie playing. As for other foods: it’s okay to snack on a few french fries on the way home, but never, ever the hamburger. Burritos – depends on the day.