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Letters and envelopes, from 2019, and a Mike Ferguson original: “TYPE Boring Type ...”

Probably for the last time, I am marking the year by writing a letter a day.
I am just a month away from completing the 365-letter goal. Generally at the end of my day I will sit down and, usually, handwrite a letter to a friend.Sometimes I type, but perhaps for the last time; more on that in a moment.

I write once a week to my father, and he has replied a few times, but he knows I have no expectation, as his grip at age 95 is not what it used to be and writing, or typing, is a chore. But the pleasure is mine in the writing. The year saw repeated correspondence from a variety of friends, including at least one who has surprised me with the frequency of his letters.
Far from every letter gets a response; some people I write to once never write back. It used to bother me, but no longer.
 
Through Nov. 25, the total had reached 70 letters out of the 325 or so days so far in 2019 —  a yield of about a one reply to every five letters sent.
Not bad. When I last wrote on this subject, back in April, the ratio was about one in six. Readers may recall I have penned on this topic in years past; in 2003 and again 2008 I followed the same quotidian letter regimen, and the average both those years was about one in seven.
It helps that compared to other years, I have refrained —  mostly —  from writing to strangers. While some wrote back it was a rarity, and I admit I flung some missives awfully far out.

This year, I kept it to family and friends, or people I knew well enough to write to.
Who didn’t write back is the most boring part, so I won’t go into it beyond saying that some close friends and a few family members never replied to any letters this year. In a few cases, I wrote more than once, but that was rare. I have tried to stick to my rule of writing to anyone who does not write back. What I get is there are mitigating circumstances in some peoples’ lives, and my degree of care for our friendship is not limited to my cute little hobby.
I have to say that a highlight of my letter-writing year was visiting the Smithsonian Postal Museum in Washington, D.C., while on vacation.
 
My wife, Lorre, and our friends Lee and Nancy humored me by agreeing to go with me to the Postal Museum. We were all glad we did. I am a letter-writer, not a philatelist, but the archive of stamps, postal cancellations and, yes, by natural connection, letters, was fascinating to peruse. I enjoyed learning the story of Olney the postal dog who rode the postal trains in the first half of the 20th century, and everywhere he went people placed medallions on his collar commemorating the towns Olney visited, and put him on the mail train knowing the next community down the line would feed and care for the postal pooch. It was rewarding just to learn that as recently as 1977, men were employed as postal sorters aboard moving trains, preparing bags of mails for the post offices up and down the east coast.
 
My letters went to Hawaii, Czech Republic, Germany, Israel, California, Illinois and plenty of other states. And to Hood River, Parkdale or Lyle; yes, I’d mail letters to friends in the Gorge. My friend Bill Weiler and I traded a dozen or so letters, sometimes hand-delivering them.

The pleasure was in the writing, the putting down on paper interesting and (for myself) mundane things, bits of humor and encouragement, and enclosurres of cartoons and other ephemera.

A late delight has been my corrrespondence with my friend Mike Ferguson of Tacoma, my oldest friend, who I have known since kindergarten, on Rose Hill in Kirkland, Wash. He’s a professional artist, whose sense of humor and basic good nature were a calming factor in my life that I can recall even from age 8 or 9. Same said for our mutual Kirkland friend, John Logan, who has also been a regular correspondent. It is gratifying to continue our friendship trio for 50 years and counting.

I think part of my sustained connection with Mike and John that is that we all both ended up pursuing life work based on skills we found when were in junior high together: I became a journalist, John a musician and music educator, and Mike an artist. (His works are on display at Attic Gallery in Camas.)
Mike’s art serendipitously came my way last week in a letter. In junior high, Mike drew a recurring motif, big-toothed goofy Dragon-like figures he called “Uncanny Devils.” I kept an Uncanny Devil from 1972 when I loved from Rose Hill, and returned it to him, in a letter, in 2018.
Three weeks ago, I replied to Mike’s most recent letter, in which he teased me about my poor penmanship. “The Scrawl” he called it. My next letter I typed and he let me have it.

“So sad to see a TYPED letter from you! I am sorry that my grousing about your ‘scrawling’ affected your actual letter writing technology. ... I enjoy the lingusitic challenge of your scrawling. Please return to your comfort zone of handwriting.”

He added a box: “TYPED LETTERS WILL NO LONGER BE ACCEPTED” — and, while no Uncanny Devil, the cartoon visible in the photo accompanying this column. I got a letter, and more of Mike’s art!
So, I will keep writing to Mike and John and a lot of other friends including those who (almost) never write back. (If you see this online, you know who you are.)

And I will never send another typed letter to Mike. And I will also endeavor to improve my handwriting. It really is more enjoyable to use pen than keyboard; the thought process is different, more focused, and there is the physical link between hand, pen and paper that carries over, via stamped envelope, to the person reading the letter.
One a day? No, probably never again, but letter writing is in my blood and I try to ignore those who blithely declare as “dead” this honored — and very much alive — means of communication.

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