Sunday, January 23, 2011

Remembered in Letters

My sister lifted the lid of the old trunk and a plastic bag fell to the floor. Pictures sprawled out every direction, dripping off the edges of the trunk, falling behind it and into the cardboard boxes that fill up Grandma's basement. "What's this?" Autumn asked, lifting up the bag. It held a leather wallet, a nice one too. The leather was hand-tooled and well kept, with a floral border around the edges and a large fleur de lis on the front. She pulled it out and opened it carefully. "Property of George A. Hodgson," she read aloud. Grandma lifted a picture out of the trunk. "That's your great-great-great grandfather." She said, pointing to the black and white face: a refined face, with friendly eyes. "That was his wallet." She told us.

We took the wallet home and found among several receipts for purchases a letter to George's son Albert, requesting him to use some land George owned to pay for his burial. "I [saw fit] to keep the land rather than money, which is so easily spent in time of need," the shaky cursive wrote. The date was 1939.

Letters are a beautiful thing to me. They last through time the way nothing electronic can, with its easy access and often thoughtless haste. A letter takes time to write and conveys a message deeper than a passing whim. Too, letters have been the standard mode of communication for centuries, without technology to interrupt. Letters are a sort of legacy, I think; something we all should try at some time or another.

Personally, I try it all the time. There are several people I write on a regular basis (at least weekly). I like plain, classic stationary and a fountain pen, but there are so many other ways to write letters! I love to hear what other people use for ideas. Below are listed a few I found myself.

Wouldn't it be neat someday when we are gone for our own great-great-great grandchildren to find evidence of thoughtfulness like my Grandpa George's? To think that his shaking hand -- one that rode among cattle in Colorado and recorded the Indian attacks of Grand County -- wrote the very words I read out loud in the kitchen last night. Letters are truly amazing things.

I found these ideas for creative letters on the website 'The Illuminated Letter'. Try them out and let me know of any ideas of your own!

Some of my favorite mail ideas:

1. Unusual Surfaces: Just recently, I got a letter with no envelope that was written on the insole of a shoe. (No shoe attached, mind you, just a disembodied insole, like the Dr. Shoal's kind, only in a wild hawaiian print.) What I wouldn't have given to see the look on my mailman's face when THAT arrived!

2. Try a small change: Nobody said that you have to use a traditional format for your notes. Try using white ink on black paper. Try making a ransom-note type letter, where every word is cut out of a magazine, and arranged in a certain order. Or try writing all in song lyric quotes. (Don't overdo that last one. It gets old quick, but is pretty fun for a one-time deal.)

3. Home-made Envelopes: If you're not comfortable sending out your letter by itself (as in the case of the Infamous Insole, above), try making your own envelopes out of magazine ads or some kind of paper that you like. I've got all kinds of templates if you want one. (I'll scan a couple and link them here at some point.) Or you can take apart a regular envelope and use that as a template. Try using tinfoil covered with packing tape, brown paper bags that you've potato printed, or fabric sewn together.

4. Just Plain Weird Envelopes: And nobody said your envelope has to look like an envelope, either. Send a letter in a (washed) soda can. Or inside a shoe (children's shoes don't cost much to mail, either). My thing lately is to send round-shaped letters in old DVD cases that I get for free from the store. We were just going to throw them away anyway. Think of new uses for old items....make them art.

5. Artsy Prose: Give your pen pal all your news in haiku. Or write everything backwards so that you need a mirror to read it. Or never once use the letter "e" -- and point that out at the end. Make a rebus letter, with words omitted and pictures in their place. Or rubber stamp your letters with alphabet stamps. Finger paint it. Write it in glitter paint or colored glue.

6. Stationery of the Gods: Most home-dec stores give away old wallpaper books -- use that as stationery. Or use old register tapes and send a scroll. I got a great letter the other day that was two pieces of newspaper (comics section) sewn together with a sewing machine. Try sending your letter as an accordian-fold book, or on origami. Or maybe, if you're writing while you're out somewhere, write an entire letter on cocktail napkins.

7. It Takes Two, Baybeee: Tandem letters are fun. If you've got pals who also know each other, try sending around one pack of paper, bound or not, on which you start a letter, have your pal add to it and mail to the third person. After it goes around, it comes back to you, when you can either add to it and send it again, or start a new one. This is particularly fun with stories -- start a story and send it to a person who adds to it and sends it on. By the time it gets back to you, it's nothing like the beginning.

8. Swap, Swap, Swap: I talk about decos and friendship books elsewhere on the site, but those aren't the only swaps that are out there. Send your pal some local stationery or pens and pencils and erasers, and get some back.

9. Really Artsy: Decorate your envelopes. Make your own artistamps to dazzle your recipient, or carve your own rubberstamps from erasers or vegetables. If you take a photocopy of your face and rub the back with acetone (nail polish remover) and a cotton ball, the image will transfer right onto your envelope. You can get some really freaky images that way.

10. Anything Goes: There are some great mail art sites on the web that talk more about the types of things other people have mailed. (I'll post a couple under the links section.) Just keep your mind open. Someone, in fact, posted a picture of a piece of toast that they mailed, after coating it with polyurethane. Send a plastic frog. Or a feather-covered box. Or an altered book. The possibilities are endless.

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