Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Columns

February 10, 2013

Missives from the past underscore art of communicating with flourish

Faded ink on aging paper. Messages from long ago that remain, tucked away in boxes and hidden in the dark recesses of closets and attics.

Cards and correspondence from the 1920s paint a very different portrait of America than the one we live in today. Rummaging through a box filled with memories left by a long-deceased ancestor, I come across a piece of mail from November of 1928.

“Oh! To live these happy hours again — gone — but far from forgotten ...”

I wonder about the person, the place, the event that inspired these thoughts that were put to paper in an elegant hand with a penchant for cursive writing. Was it a special someone or a specific event that spurred the act of pen to paper?

lll

Today our messages are much more succinct, with texts, tweets and emails dominating conversations.

“R y ready 2 go 2 the movie?” Who needs correct grammar and spelling when communicating by smartphone? It’s all about the message, right?

I am fortunate that most of the individuals I communicate with via text are adults with a love of the written word.

Our “r” remains “are.” Our “2” a “to.”

But I do wonder about the fate of the written language. Across the nation, some school systems are already phasing out cursive writing in favor of typing classes. While expertise on a keyboard is certainly vital in today’s age of technology, it’s sad to think there may come a day when children no longer know the art of a loopy “l” or lowercase “z.”

lll

Last week, the United States Postal Service announced it was cutting home delivery services on Saturday. The agency once known to deliver despite rain, sleet or snow is now feeling the pinch of budgetary issues.

For many Americans, those who chat and bank and pay bills online, the cut will not be felt. Who needs a paper bank statement when that same information can be called up on a smartphone?

But there are others, many others, who will be dramatically impacted by the cut — the elderly, the poor, the residents of outlying communities whose usage of rural Internet services is sustained on a wish and a prayer. And that’s only if they can afford it.

For these people, the post office is a lifeline. A link to the outside world.

Imagine life without a computer, without a cell phone. Imagine getting news the old-fashioned way, via a home-delivered copy of the Bluefield Daily Telegraph. Imagine being dependent on the U.S. Postal Service for a monthly paycheck, prescription medications and news from friends and family.

A lack of Saturday mail service may be no big deal for those who Facebook and tweet in real time, but for others it’s a day of the week without vital contact.

lll

So what, or who, is to blame for the postal service problems? It’s easy to point a finger at changing technology and underscore the shift in cultural mores. But maybe email, instant messaging and online banking is not the biggest problem.

In November, the postal service reported an annual loss of $15.9 billion for the last budget year, according to the Associated Press. “The financial losses for the fiscal year ending Sept. 30 were more than triple the $5.1 billion loss in the previous year. Having reached its borrowing limit, the mail agency is operating with little cash on hand.

“The agency’s biggest problem — and the majority of the red ink in 2012 — was not due to reduced mail flow but rather to mounting mandatory costs for future retiree health benefits, which made up $11.1 billion of the losses. Without that and other related labor expenses, the mail agency sustained an operating loss of $2.4 billion, lower than the previous year.

“The health payments are a requirement imposed by Congress in 2006 that the post office set aside $55 billion in an account to cover future medical costs for retirees. The idea was to put $5.5 billion a year into the account for 10 years. That’s $5.5 billion the post office doesn’t have,” the AP reported.

lll

Pulling out a box of family memorabilia from its storage nook, I think about how different day-to-day life was back in the ’20s.

Christmas and Easter cards bear perfect penmanship and missives wishing good health and prosperity. Hand-written letters spread news of family fortunes, hopes and troubles.

Children wrote thank-you notes for Christmas gifts and other presents. Cousins kept in touch with older relatives in ill health. Friends authored letters filled with details of good days and bad.

Emotions and events were communicated with a flourish of the pen, and peppered with descriptive adjectives that inspired vivid imagery.

“Oh! To live these happy hours again — gone — but far from forgotten ...”

I don’t know what event transpired to spur such positive thoughts and writings. But the message is marked with a heart pierced by an arrow, and signed with initials lovingly etched on timeworn parchment.

The author was obviously smiling when penning the letter 84 years ago. Today, as I read it, I am smiling, too.

Samantha Perry is editor of the Daily Telegraph. Contact her at sperry@bdtonline.com. Contact her @BDTPerry.

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