The Letters I Kept

by jimowensjr

I can’t recall the last hand-written letter I ever received.  I suppose it was sometime in the middle 1980s when my college and high school friends had scattered to pursue their dreams and face the vagaries of life. But back in “the day,” when hair was big and I wore, dare I admit, Calvin Klein jeans, I remember my excitement over receiving a letter from my Mom, Dad, or perhaps, a young lady who for some strange reason might have thought I was worth the time and energy it took to put pen to paper. I’m all in on email, texting and the variety of technological ways we connect today, but there is something about “snail mail” that I miss.


Because I’m a hopeless collector of memories, you know, ticket stubs, worthless trinkets that crowd my drawers, and yellowed scraps of newsprint, I probably have every letter ever written to me.  Letters from my grandmothers, my friends, and, yes, old flames.  I don’t keep them because I live in the past.  I keep them because they remind me of who I am.  I keep them because they connect me to the people I love, the challenges we faced and the victories we enjoyed.  On the rare occasion I pull them out to read a few. They make laugh.  Sometimes they bring a tear to my eye.  Especially the ones from my grandmothers for whom I held so much affection and admiration.


Those letters are more than yellowed paper and fading ink.  They are a part of the person who took the time to write me.  When they might have been doing something else, they chose sit down and scribe their thoughts.  They chose to invest some of their life in mine, sharing their hopes with and for me, inviting me into their world, peeking into mine, and, sometimes, sharing a bit of their own soul.  None of them are typed.  They were all written in their own hand with a stamp (licked, not peeled) affixed and then dropped into a big blue box or perhaps placed in a black one with an upturned flag.  I’m grateful for their effort.


Every so often, I get a hand-written thank you note, or a card that has a personalized message.  I still get excited when I see a hand addressed envelope.  Call me strange.  Call me old.  Call me a cab.  Maybe, I’m all of those things. Probably, I am.  Okay, we all know it.  I’m a little of both.  I know it’s odd that I can still recall the combination to P.O. Box 41 at Birmingham-Southern College.  I know it’s odd that and on past visits, before they tore down the Snavely Center, I would wander to the second floor and turn the dial of the box just to see if it still opened.  But maybe not.  I think I was just looking into that tiny box to peer into the lives of so many people who sent letters to that address, wondering if they were still there, if they still thought of me, as I do of them.


Most of you who read this will know how to text, or email me, or send me a message on FaceBook.  And I would love that.  But if you want my “snail mail” address, just ask.  And if you send me a letter, just know it will end up in a safe place and one day, when I’m really old, I’ll look back at it with gratitude.  To Vince, Tommy, Melinda, Anne, and you, Mom and Dad, and to so many others, don’t worry.  Our secrets are still safe with one another.  I have to go now.  My Calvin Klein’s are in the dryer and I’m afraid they’re gonna shrink if I don’t get them out now.