Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Staying Connected

Nowadays, staying connected usually implies by means of cell phone, e-mail, Skype, Face Time, Facebook or some other invention of the Internet age.  Not so long ago handwritten letters were the norm, with telegrams reserved for emergencies.  No one wanted to get one of those.

When was the last time you wrote or received a handwritten letter from a friend or relative?  Can't remember?   Me neither.   That's probably why I'm not in a hurry to go to  our mailbox. Mostly bills.  But a letter, written a hundred or two hundred years ago, kept a tenuous link alive in an era when travel across oceans or continents took weeks or months.  I've read some interesting vignettes on this topic over the years that have stayed with me.   It was the custom in the past the write letters in a small horizontal script with lines closely spaced.   Sent infrequently, it was necessary to include as much information as possible to the loved one. After filling both sides of the page with text, the writer turned the paper and continued writing horizontally over the previous words.   Every scrap of space counted.

I've also read of another custom of considerably less volubility at a time when the recipient of the letter paid the postage, not the sender.   The impoverished settler would go to the local post office or greet the mail carrier at the  front door of the one room sod house.   Practice required that the addressee  be allowed to hold and look at the letter before deciding to pay the prescribed fee - one cent - to gain permanent possession.   In the tale, an  explanation was offered  for declining the letter:  The letter was from his sister as could be seen from the return address which also confirmed she was still living at the same location.   The fact that she was writing a letter in a clear hand showed that she was alive and well.   That was all her brother needed to know and in fact the envelope was empty.  I suppose a penny was a lot to pay.  

At least there was still a connection.

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