The other day in our mailbox was a letter from Auntie Anne. She is nearing 80 and doesn't know what a hashtag is, or how important Facebook has become. She isn't interested in Twittering; she has a journal that she keeps to and for herself. She doesn't see the use of the Internet. She is a stalwart of pen and paper.
Every other week for the past 30 years I have sat down and written a letter to her. I learned long ago that if you want a letter, you must first write one.
I started writing to her when I was 10 and she was living at Douglas Lake Ranch in the interior of British Columbia. The huge ranch was owned by the Woodward family (perhaps you remember their department stores).
Her letters were full of what Uncle Willi was doing. He was a cowboy and he rode quarter horses every day, moving cattle and watching out for rattlesnakes.
Auntie Anne ran the general store and was postmistress. She hand-stamped every letter that left the ranch. Her letters were like a novel whose main characters were my family, and I still have every one.
My letters were full of school in Victoria and family and ballet. I learned to pack mine with whatever I thought was important. She would write back with questions. Slowly, I learned to tell a story.
I also learned about the paraphernalia of letter writing. Keeping my address book current. Having a ready supply of paper, envelopes and stamps.
That led me to stamp collecting. A friend of a friend's girlfriend worked for Tourism British Columbia and she sent me stamps from all over the world. I dutifully pasted them into my stamp album and learned about geography, flora and fauna, history and personalities.
Uncle Willi was an avid stamp collector. His trunk was full of decades of stamp collecting, and he would pass on tips on what to watch for and share his excitement on what I had found.
I caught the letter-writing bug. While still home in Victoria and studying at university, I wrote to friends who were studying and living in France and China. We shared our hopes and travels, and chronicled our love lives. I have boxes filled with their letters, too.
Once graduated from university, I packed my backpack and travelled around the world. My letters reached Auntie Anne from Asia and Europe. Places she had never seen, but was keen to hear all about.
When I was homesick in Bangkok, Berlin or Kfar Menachem, Israel, letters from my family and friends would find me via poste restante and I would feel like the world was smaller. Someone out there cared.
After I moved away from the West Coast to live in Ottawa, I found a lovely German Christmas card for my Auntie Anne and Uncle Willi at a deli. I sent it to them one Christmas. She had told me years ago of a Valentine's Day card that she and he had passed back and forth for all the years of their marriage.
I was happy to have found my one true love and wanted to share a piece of that with the couple I knew loved the longest and the best. So Auntie Anne decided that we would send this Christmas card back and forth over the years. It's been sent between us for a decade now, and has never been lost in the mail.
Now that postal workers have been legislated back to work and mail is once again filling mailboxes, most wired people muse that snail mail isn't all that relevant any more. Nobody uses the mail these days, they say. When was the last time someone actually wrote a letter?
But what about postcards when you travel? What about the small businesses who rely on cheques in the mail? What about all those charities needing funds to carry on? What about all those things you order online? Doesn't it all come in the mail right to your door?
Now that the kids are out of school it seems the perfect time to get them to write to Auntie Anne. I coach them on the rules of writing to her. She doesn't like fancy paper any more. She thinks it's best to recycle a flyer from the mailbox or the back of the newsletter from my daughter's preschool.
We need to always use the formal salutation "dear" and formal closing "love." Because being dear to someone and telling them we love them is what we all want to get in the mail, especially when the sentiment is handwritten.
Auntie Anne always includes a note for each child with questions of their own to answer in a letter back to her. They usually carry her notes around and use them for bookmarks for days afterward. I used to read them aloud, but now the two boys can read them to themselves and their sister. My daughter is 3 and so happy to get a letter she usually dances around holding it.
I keep an addressed envelope on the kitchen counter ready in case I see a clipping from the newspaper I know Auntie Anne will be interested in, or a nice bit of artwork from the children - something bright for her fridge - or perhaps even a note written by them. The best letters are fat ones.
As I mail my parcel to Auntie Anne, perhaps in the next week or so we'll receive another letter from her. Or even one from their cousin in Victoria. Because if we want a letter, we must first write one.
Paige Raymond Kovach lives in Ottawa.