Mail that I actually care about has become rare in our mailbox. I call or e-mail almost everyone I know and even our bills are paperless. Much of the post is just junk but, in my sea of all things digital, I have got one completely analog friend.
Carol is Chris' grandmother's cousin, an octogenarian of exacting habit. She lives today almost exactly as she has lived her entire life. "New," in her house, could as easily mean something bought in the 1950's as something obtained last week. Most of Carol's everyday things would be, to anyone else, precious antiques. Bringing children into her home is terrifying! Possibly the scariest thing I've ever done was visit Carol when the boys were toddlers (thankfully nothing was broken!).
Carol is a well-practiced analog correspondent. Her letters arrive faithfully on monogrammed, cream-colored, cotton paper with a good watermark and are full of news. Often, the topic is gardening. Carol is a Master Gardener and I (who can barely claim the title 'recreational gardener') appreciate her help. My letters back usually describe the effects of the last bit of gardening advice. I'm sure Carol is dismayed by some of my reports but she is to much of a lady to ever say so. We also write about hockey, my job, her outings, family news, house projects and history (to me - often personal memories of Carol's). I love having an envelope to stick in my purse as a treat to read while I wait in line somewhere or take the train, the voice of a friend in my head while I sit in a sea of strangers.
Chris clearly gets his miserable penmanship from the family branch Carol is part of and it often takes both of us to figure out what she's written. Rather than annoying, this is part of the fun. We're usually fairly confident we've deciphered the text although we've occasionally called for clarification to someone else who might have had a letter, in case their copy of the news might have been less mysterious.
I used to feel I was the correspondent in our pair who most often owed a response but, in the past year, I've noticed a change. I think the effort it takes to write is becoming more of a strain for Carol. Sometimes she will call instead of crafting a written response and I wonder if her inner "tacky!" alarm goes off while she dials (yes, she still uses a rotary phone). I suppose it would be worse not to respond at all...but Carol is not one for compromise and I'm sure she doesn't like to admit she must make one.
Before me sits my most recent letter from Carol. She wrote it while watching Game 4 of the Stanley Cup playoffs, so her news is peppered with hockey remarks. It's a hand-written note that Chris and I decoded over beer, laughing at some of the potential interpretations and happy when we finally figured out what was really being described. I'm not sure why this letter should be any different from any other I've gotten but this letter feels more precious, somehow. When there are no more letters, I will miss Carol.