In case you missed it, December 7 was not only Pearl Harbor Day here in the States, it also is designated as National Letter Writing Day. This was not something I knew either until I heard about it on a piece aired on National Public Radio. I’m not sure who selected Pearl Harbor Day to be the same day as encouraging and celebrating people putting pen to paper. It’s not an official federal holiday (there are only 10 of those), but it’s a nice idea to recognize the value of what is rapidly becoming a lost art especially as the holiday season kicks off.
I refer of course to the annual holiday letter that comes (or came) enclosed with many of the holiday greeting cards that arrive. To be sure, e-mail and social media outlets, particularly Facebook, have lessened the perceived need for a letter detailing the events of the previous year. Some of my friends have simply moved their letters from the cards to their e-mail outbox although I still print them for myself once I have received one.
I’m carrying on the tradition because there are those who don’t read or follow me on any sort of social media and also because I enjoy recalling for myself and setting it down for the record the activities, travels, life events of my year. This was called to my attention this week not only by the NPR article but also with the receipt of a brief holiday letter from my childhood friend, Arlyne, along with her Christmas card. Arlyne lived across the busy Main Street (also a highway) from the motel my parents owned and where we lived. We spent countless days together as playmates running back and forth across the street.
Fortunately, Arlyne’s card arrived early because she’s moved and I would have had no other way of knowing this. Tucked into her card were three postcards. I assume she came across these when moving (she’s had several rummage sales with more to come). The postcards were written to her by me when vacationing with my parents. I was particularly grateful for one of them because it was written (clearly by my mother but signed by me) on a trip to the Pacific Northwest in 1960.
“Dear Arlyne,” it began, “I went to Wash. Sat. & got to go on my uncle’s ship, the Coral Sea & ate dinner on it. We were on it for 4 1/2 hours & still didn’t see everything. It is as long as 3 football fields & 20 stories high. There are 3,000 sailors on it. Got to ride on a Ferry for an hr. Love Cheryl”
Why this was such a treat to receive was because I have always remembered visiting that ship. I particularly remember how terrifying small I felt next to the huge iron links of the anchor chain as we toured through that room. But I wasn’t certain exactly when my family visited the aircraft carrier and now that they are gone, I no longer had them to ask. My uncle, who is still living and sailor-sharp for the most part, remembers our visit but couldn’t recall the exact year.
It’s really not an important detail to anyone else but to me, but my friend Arlyne’s gift of an old postcard, validated my memory of that day and gave it a date. That she still had this postcard after this many years and decided to send it on to me with her Christmas card and letter instead of tossing it out when she moved was truly fortunate for me.
Historians and biographers yearn for this sort of material when conducting research about their subjects. But fewer and fewer of us are sitting down to actually write a letter, at the holidays or any other time. It’s creating a crises of sorts. As much as it is convenient and wonderful, electronic mail and social media (including blogs such as my own), are not proven to be permanent document of record. Accepted in court proceedings as legal documents, yes, but whether they will last as records of history remains to be seen. In the meantime, I’ll happily continue to send a holiday letter along with my greeting card and will welcome yours if you do so too!