(Photo: flickr.com/photos/jhandbell)

COLUMN: Rediscovering the joy of snail mail

My children reacquainted themselves with pen pals as well as sending artwork to Grandma and Grandpa

Our mail obsession started innocuously enough with my youngest’s birthday.

He was the first to feel the pinch of the pandemic this spring as this was the first time in his life that he did not get to celebrate with his out-of-province grandparents.

The upside to this personal travesty was that he started receiving packages in the mail.

A household that could once leave the mailbox unattended for a full week was now once again making it a part of our daily routine.

When the birthday bounty ended, we started sending our own mail.

With revitalized vigour, my children reacquainted themselves with old pen pals as well as sending artwork to Grandma and Grandpa.

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I splurged and bought a roll of stamps to jump on the bandwagon, starting first with little greeting cards to people I was thinking about that seemed farther away than a phone call until eventually I was making my own postcards on watercolour paper to send weekly notes to far-away friends and family.

Turning online, I found we were not the only ones who had embraced snail mail during quarantine as a way to cultivate connectedness.

A whole revival was happening right under our noses.

From pen pal clubs and examples of ephemera to send in a letter to beautifully handmade mixed-media creations that resemble miniature scrapbooks, the Internet was teeming with ways to send someone you loved something special and from the heart – the good, old-fashioned way.

Writing a letter is a great way to reconnect but if living vicariously is more your style, you can also feed your nostalgic hunger by reading letters to and from someone else.

A guilty pleasure of mine is the hilarious Dear Fahrenheit 451: Love and Heartbreak in the Stacks, by Annie Spence, where she writes both love letters and hate mail to books she has to weed from the library where she works.

I Will Always Write Back, by Caitlin Alifirenka, describes how one letter in a simple pen pal assignment changed two lives on two continents.

Just A Larger Family, edited by Mary F. Williamson and Tom Sharp, is a collection of World War II era letters between a Canadian mother and the mother of two English boys that were staying in Canada for the duration of the war.

If it is fiction you are looking for, you can always depend on a great epistolary novel like Ella Minnow Pea, by Mark Dunn, or The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, by Mary Ann Shaffer.

Want a mixture of both truth and fallacy? Try On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous, by Ocean Vuong — the poet’s debut novel that addresses his mother who can’t read.

With Plexiglass dividers and face masks, connection can seem hard to come by.

I am treasuring the small ways in which I can connect: a crinkle of the eyes that means a smile; a shared laugh, however muffled by a mask; and now, a letter to an old friend.

I like to call it a paper hug.

Raina Dezall is an assistant community librarian at the Summerland Library and has adult regrets about sending glitter to her pen pal when she was younger.

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