I was cleaning out my office the other day and came upon a box of letters. There were a hundred or so, and soon I was surrounded by paper: pretty stationery, notebook pages and postcards. My oldest son was in the house and stopped to see what I was doing.
"What are those?" he asked
"Letters from people who read my books. Fan letters," I said.
"Yes. There was no internet or email when I started writing."
"Yes. It was," I answered.
He had no idea how cool it was. All those years ago, I was a fledgling writer; he was just a toddler. When I saw an envelope, addressed in a hand I didn't recognize, my heart would pump. I would immediately look at the postmark. Most came from the East Coast – a few came from prisons, and that was exciting too. I answered every letter immediately (except to the people who were in prison. I had boxes of thank you cards and stationery and chose my paper based on the note I had been sent. The letter writers were mostly women, but every once in a while, a gentleman would write. I felt, well, famous. I wasn’t, of course, but the gift those readers gave me was profound.
I took one last look and put those old letters, put them back in the box, and gave the box to my son to take to the trash.
"You're going to throw them away?" He was taken aback.
"I haven't looked at them in years," I answered. “I need the room. They’re gathering dust.”
"You have no soul. Those letters took a lot of effort, and no one will ever write you a real letter again." His eyes narrowed a little. His jaw set. "Ever."
He handed the box back to me. If I wanted the letters thrown out, I would have to do it myself. I felt my heart shrivel to a small, hard, black thing. I was callous. I was ungrateful. I was the Grinch to my son's Who, I was Scrooge to my son's cheery Ghost of Christmas Past. He was Santa and I was deserving of coal.
That, of course, was not what my son gave me. He gave me the gift of sentiment not practicality. He gave me the gift of memory and took me back the time when I was a young writer and that first fan wrote me letter that gave me the courage to go on. That lady is still my penpal over 30 years later.
All the letters are now neatly stacked and back in their box. The box is on a shelf where I can easily reach them. I have read every one and I can't tell you how much I appreciate that there were people in my life who sat down with a piece of paper, wrote me a letter, told me about themselves and how my books touched them. I appreciate that they wrote my address on an envelope and had to use a stamp.
Now I know that I had forgotten to read between the lines and understand that there was more in that box than paper.
I am blessed this holiday season to have my letters, my reader friends across the world, and most of all a son who is a man with a heart that is big, wise, and wonderful.
I have my box of letters and a son who is not a Grinch or a Scrooge. I hope everyone is blessed to have loved ones near and maybe a letter in their mailbox.