A letter in the mail

Photo by Kate Macate

As I reach into the compartmentalized slot of the postal box, one of 50 other compartments with keyed doors, I have a flash from the past of a time when mail was personally delivered to the mailbox right outside the front door of my house.

Of course, it was convenient to have the mail come directly to the house, but if you were like me, receiving mail at roughly the same time every day was also an anticipated event. In those days I’d usually be at work – there definitely weren’t work-from-home options – but on the days I was at home, waiting for the mail to arrive was an exciting part of my day. Retrieving the letters and packages that the mail person dropped into the mailbox was a small joy to look forward to.

It wasn’t just because home delivery of mail was convenient, but the quality and abundance of personalized mail back then were greater. Birthday cards, congratulations cards, thank you cards, postcards and personal letters were the norm. It was common to receive packages wrapped in brown butcher paper and taped up tight and secure on a regular basis.

These days, it’s likely that you’ll find an advertisement for a dental office, or a flyer for the neighbourhood pizza joint, or the most dependable piece of mail – an energy bill, there is no thickness to an energy bill, just a thin piece of paper demanding a thick payment by a too soon due date.

It was just as I grimaced at the thought of pulling out an energy bill that my hand made contact with an envelope that had a texture unlike that of the universal recycled paper envelopes that bills tend to come in.

The letter my fingers curled around had a texture not commonly felt in the narrow postal box. There was an unusual thickness to the envelope. It crossed my mind that it could be an advertisement, but typically advertisements are printed on card stock. I paused for a moment to imagine what this unusual envelope could be. Suddenly I realized that there was a real possibility that I was about to receive personal mail. My heart quickened and I squeezed my eyes tightly shut for a moment, mentally wishing for such a gem, and slowly pulled the contents out of the postal box. I looked at the small stack of mail in my hand – a pizza flyer, two dental flyers (one offered free teeth whitening with your first check-up), an energy bill (of course).

And a thick, mysterious letter.

Thick, mysterious letters are the best, well, right after packages wrapped in brown paper and taped up tight with packing tape. I looked at the address on the letter – it was definitely addressed to me. I looked at the stamp, well, it didn’t have a stamp exactly, it had one of those stamps that the letter gets when it’s run through a machine, and this stamp said: Royal Mail, Postage Paid U.K. I looked at the light cocoa coloured envelope, which was slightly smaller than a standardized envelope. I admired how neatly my name and address had been written on the envelope and I felt that someone had taken care in finding and choosing the stationary and had also taken care in printing out my name and address with such precise lettering.

I returned to my car and lay the envelope down carefully on the passenger seat and let the other offensive pieces of mail drop to the floor.

Driving home, I kept glancing over at the thick, mysterious envelope. I could barely wait to get home so that I could open it. I had a feeling this was a letter I’d want to open slowly and enjoy with a cup of tea.

And as I finally settled down in my favourite armchair, teacup at the ready, a few cookies to nibble on, I carefully slid my letter opener along the top seam of the envelope’s flap. I pulled out a 3-page handwritten (in cursive) letter that was folded into thirds.

The stationary had a border of pink roses and a trailing vine of leaves. At the top of the first page were more pink and violet roses, and below that the letter began with…Dearest Lesli.

I read through the 3-page letter once and then took a sip of tea and read through it again. My heart was glowing when I read it for the third time. My friend was writing from the ‘rainy Yorkshire moors’. I could imagine the drizzly weather and the surrounding lush greenery.

I pictured my friend writing at a desk or from a cozy armchair overlooking the moors. She shared an anecdote or two, gave an update as to what was new in her life, asked me a few questions and then signed off with warm salutations. I felt that we were sharing a conversation even though she was thousands of kilometers away across the ocean. When I finished my tea and had read the letter multiple times, I folded the letter up and placed it back in the envelope knowing I would read it over again and again.