By Lorri Barrier
At age eight, my daughter has discovered the joy of written correspondence. She spends lots of time drawing, writing, taping, and decorating—compiling letters and small packages for a few select friends. There is even a package on my desk ready for “Cookie Swirl C,” a YouTuber she enjoys, whose fan mailbox is currently closed. My daughter checks Cookie’s website daily to see if there is a change in her mail acceptance status.
“Do you think this will go through the mail?” My daughter asks, handing me a slightly puffy envelope. I feel something plastic inside with sharp edges. The slightly jagged envelope was addressed to her friend Teagan, with the address line extending way too far to the right, but with all the correct information included.
“I doubt it,” I say. “It has to be smooth, or you’ll need one of those envelopes with the bubble wrap inside.” Once when I was a little girl, I tell her, I tried to mail a book to a friend, but it came back to me—damaged. My daughter runs off to her room to try to remedy the situation, or create something else.
Sometimes, if the packages are larger—a shoebox-size—I help her hand-deliver them. She likes to do this in stealth mode; we placed a package on her friend Sophia’s back porch for her to find as a surprise a few weeks ago, and tiptoed away giggling. (She doesn’t know it, but I texted Sophia’s mother to let her know the package was there.)
Her friends respond in kind. I opened our door to a surprise package once during the summer. I never heard a car in the driveway or footsteps on the porch. For my daughter, it was a little taste of Christmas. (From the elves, Sophia’s mother’s text told me, with a winky-faced emoji.)
I am not sure how this love of snail mail blossomed. My daughter is a child of the electronic age, perpetually plugged in at one end to an iPod or e-reader. The cord hanging from her ears connecting to a device is as much a part of her as her skin or hair. But each time I see her engaged in creating mail for a friend or opening something she’s received, I’m overcome by the act of simple sweetness.
I was always a prolific letter-writer. Any of my past romantic interests could recall the volume of letters I generated. I remember the excitement of receiving a long-awaited letter in return. One particular summer when my high school boyfriend spent several weeks in Europe, I clutched the lone letter I received in my hand, and walked to an isolated spot on my grandfather’s property so I could read the letter in a romantic setting. I imagined the sunlight filtered through the canopy of trees would infuse some magic into the letter, and it would be exactly what I wanted to hear, and not what I feared.
Sometimes the letters I received broke my heart.
Sometimes the letters I wrote broke hearts.
But broken hearts didn’t keep me from writing the next time, with equal intensity. A former boyfriend once confessed after the relationship ended that he hadn’t actually read all of every letter—it was just too much.
It’s been a long time since I’ve written a letter to anyone. The passionate need to express my feelings in words is dampened by daily life. Email is easier, texting easier still. I no longer have as much to say, it seems. The kids, the job, the marriage—it is often an unexamined blur of activity.
I watch my daughter open a letter from her friend. She takes out several pieces of paper with drawings and short paragraphs written in various shades of marker. A few glow bracelets fall out of the envelope as well, and she smiles at all of it. Prolific correspondence may be a fleeting season in my daughter’s electronic life, but it is a beautiful, lush season.
“Mama, I’m going to put all of that back in the envelope and pretend I just got it and haven’t seen it,” she shouts, jubilant at the discovery. That’s the thing about letters. They can be revisited again and again. Even old letters retain a bit of the essence of what used to be on faded pages.
“I got your letter,” my future husband had said to me over the phone. He couldn’t see then how I blushed, knowing what I’d written but couldn’t say out loud. Finally, I received the response I’d been waiting for. The story of us begins with a letter, the story we are still writing, our daughter’s chapter open with a rose pressed to the page.
One of my favorite letters from my daughter is attached to the bulletin board above my desk—”I love Mommy for taking care of me when I’m sick and even when I’m not and I wanted to say Thank You!”—complete with a row of “XXOOXOO” on a folded purple (my favorite color) piece of construction paper. I imagine the intervening years may not include such tender exchanges, but for now, this is all I need to know.
Lorri Barrier lives with her husband and three children in Mt. Pleasant, NC. She teaches at Stanly Community College in Albemarle, NC. Her previous essays for Brain, Child include “Faithfully,” “The F-word,” and “Unplugged.”