A lot of letters come to me, all kinds of letters. I often read that the handwritten letter is dead. Everything happens now on e-mail. Probably that is our future but in the meantime, there are reasons why all people don’t use e-mail. Not so long ago, I received a letter. The back of the envelope was stamped with a message that said it was from a Massachusetts Correctional Institution. They included an 800 number I could call if I did not want to receive any further correspondence from this inmate. This sounded a bit ominous and I opened it with caution but the letter, written in ballpoint on paper from a yellow legal pad, was from a man who said he had been in prison for 19 years and had invested every cent he had toward his appeals. He hoped and prayed that one day he would be vindicated. In the meantime, he had saved up money intended to be spent on commissary purchases and bought my book, The View from Mary’s Farm. He wanted me to know that, in that dark place where he lives, my stories touched him and brought back beautiful memories. Read a letter like that and you feel it is worthwhile to do what you do.
Last week, I received another letter, from a very different correspondent. The handwriting was crimped and a little uneven, written on stationery with a colorful bouquet of flowers at the top, the bottom edged in plaid. “Dear Edie Clark,” it began. “At last Yankee has printed a picture of you so I can write to tell you how very much I enjoy your writing. First I must tell you who is writing to you. I am 100 plus 8 months old, am reasonably well for this age, have 9 teeth left, am nearly blind, wear hearing aids and walk with a walker. But I still have my mind, thankfully.” This lady, who lives in Maine, went on to tell me her life story, which spanned a century,including living near the Panama Canal zone as her husband helped in its construction, running a cake decorating school, raising four children and adopting a fifth, losing her beloved husband, and now living very contentedly in a nursing home near the sea. She had, she said, read me for years and years. Another friend I did not know I had.
I know that most who write for magazines do not receive letters like this. Neither of these people are the “ideal reader” in the demographics that magazine publishers and advertisers desire. Far from it. Unfortunately, magazines hunt for the readers they want, readers who can buy expensive things and live a high life. I am happy for whoever enjoys what I write, be they rich or poor, in the nursing home or in the slammer. And so, especially in this time of e-mail and instant communication, I’m grateful for those who sit for a moment at their table, put pen to paper to express their thoughts, fold the paper, slip the page into an envelope, and place a stamp in the upper right hand corner.