Like most dedicated weeks, "National Letter Writing Week" doesn't impress me very much.
Except for a letter or two that crosses my desk a few times a year, or the personal touch of a daughter who decides to take pen in hand rather than "Reaching out to touch someone" by phone, the mail I receive is unwanted.
Goethe wrote, "We lay aside letters never to read them again, and at last we destroy them out of discretion, and so disappears the most beautiful, the most immediate breath of life, irrecoverably for ourselves and others."
The letters I destroy are neither beautiful nor breath of life.
They are bills, lots of them -- phone, parking, credit cards, utilities -- the same as everyone gets. They often have that gentle message about how nice it is to do business with you, although you are a little slow in paying -- really saying, "Pay up or we wreck your credit, cut off your phone, or stop all utilities."
I am told, in some of the mail I receive, that I have already won some exciting sweepstakes and all I have to do is follow certain rules, buy a lot of things, and then . . . I read these offers standing over a trash can.
Insurance companies write to warn how vulnerable I am.
One such letter I received the other day was personalized with my name and address typed into the text.Do they really believe that trick works?
"Every time you get in your car," it said, "you're running a risk.
"If you had a fatal accident, the tragedy for the Mastrangelo family would be hidden behind the accident statistics."
It went on to cheer up my day with, "That's why I mentioned how much $20,000 would help the Mastrangelo family if you were killed in an accident.
"Even if you are single, you'd want to provide for your parents, brothers, sisters -- some loved one. Or if you lost a hand or foot or your sight, you'd certainly need financial help."
On the back it told me how I could pay and then arrange for my loved one to split the $20,000.
But there have been letters I cherished and looked forward to receiving.
My mother did most of the corresponding for the family during the war years and I knew that I would get one or two about every third mail call.
The format was always the same. I was chastised for not writing more often, told to attend church services, say my prayers, take care of myself, kill the enemy, and to take care of my younger brother, who was also somewhere in the South Pacific.
Answering them was, however, a problem since the strict combat-zone censorship did not permit us to mention the name of another person, where we were, or even the weather.
The method I devised to get around this while still giving the appearance I had tried to write a long letter was to begin, "Dear Mother and Father," tell them how my health was, and then take a razor blade and hack big hunks out of the page, making it look like the censor wrecked our communication, and then write at the bottom how much they were missed and loved.
But is anybody still writing letters? Many consider it a doomed art, given the telephone, the cost of postage and modern sloth.
Frank L. King, vice president of the Writing Instrument Manufacturers Association, produced some evidence indicating someone out there is still writing letters.In 1979, about 2.97 billion pens of different styles were sold for $704 million wholesale. He figures sales would go up if people wrote legibly.
"In some cases people who are ashamed of their handwriting will not send a letter," King said, "I know a young 26-year-old who calls his parents because his handwriting is so poor he is ashamed to write."
King estimates that American business loses more than a million dollars a year because of poor handwriting.
King also pointed out some figures published by a research company in Colorado.
It estimated that the cost to dictate a letter and have it typed is $5.50.
"The budget-conscious executive who sends 10 to 15 letters a day may have to clean up his handwriting and do a few himself," King said.
Carol McLaughlin, buyer for the stationary department of Woodward and Lothrop, said, "There has been a 7 percent increase in sales.
"Customers are still purchasing for themselves. We sell individual sheets of paper by the pound.
"There is still an interest in colored ink in ball point pens: We have them in mauve, tan, peach and several other colors.
"There is also an interest in calligraphy. We are selling 'how-to' books on calligraphy, and one company has come out with several different shaped pen points."
Although the cost of stamps continues to rise, it is still cheaper than "Reaching out to touch somebody."
I think I'll buy a mauve pen and send a letter off to my old penmanship teacher, knowing that even today she will mark it with a red "F" at the upper right-hand corner and send it back to me.