Pen Pals

Old School & Offline, Part 2

There was a time when I loved getting mail. As a kid, walking to the end of the driveway, opening the yellow mailbox and gathering the cards and letters and catalogs was a thrill matched only by discovering an aerogram in the daily stack from my British pen pal, Alexandria, her words as ethereal as the delicate paper they were written upon.

Then, everything changed. I grew up. Moved across the country. Got my first email account—CompuServe, dialed up on the landline—to keep in touch with my father, who was slow to grasp the concept and followed up with a phone call after every email to make sure I’d received his message.

And then, I got bills, my tiny apartment mail slot overflowing with envelopes from Pacific Gas & Electric, Montgomery Ward, Comerica Bank. Aside from an occasional card and clippings from my mother, or Cook & Tell, the monthly newsletter she published for 30-plus years, or the handful of Christmas cards from friends back East, getting mail was a joyless experience.

Until recently.

This year, I launched a digital reboot of the old Cook & Tell newsletter, blasting vignettes and vintage recipes into the digital world to a new generation of readers. And, like my mother had in the past, I get mail. But where her fan mail had filled our old yellow mailbox with notecards and chatty letters and recipes, mine is mostly electronic. An inbox bursting with email can be, I guess, validating, yet nothing beats a handwritten note.

Somehow along the way, I’ve also gained a handful of pen pals. Legitimate pen pals. Readers and writers who share my enjoyment of things old school and offline. Handwritten letters and Xeroxed articles clipped from the Sunday Times, exchanged with a woman in my online writing group. Notecards and vegan recipes from a subscriber who writes a blog about distance running and enjoys baking as much as I do. A fellow food-writer who sent not just a letter but an entire fruitcake she’d baked from scratch. The postcard poetry series I sent to a friend who writes poetry, who, in turn, shared her family recipe for pickled herring.                                                   

My physical mailbox is not exactly jam-packed with letters, but receiving an occasional card and accompanying clipping or handwritten recipe, graced with a colorful stamp, sealed with an embossed sticker? Pure gold.  

This curious juxtaposition of digital and analog—where the ephemeral meets the tangible—is proof that these two worlds can coexist. Peacefully and joyfully.