I'm a sucker for stationery. I could gladly while away an afternoon in the school supply section of a drugstore, or at a Staples or Office Depot, fondling the notebooks, pondering the envelopes, examining the pens and pencils. Oh, the variety.
How lucky we are to live now, and not in ancient Mesopotamia, where you were pretty much confined to a clay tablet and a wedge- shaped stick. I understand they didn't even have cute return address labels from the Humane Society back then. Oh, the horror.
I bring this up because one of the best parts of my job is opening actual letters from actual readers. The substance of their message is the most important thing, of course, and in that regard an e-mail works as well as an illuminated manuscript. But there's something about the physical connection that comes from handling a piece of paper on which someone has seen fit to scratch a few words.
At this time of year, those words are mostly about our Send a Kid to Camp campaign.
Freeman Matthews of Chevy Chase jotted a note onto a page from a Humane Society pad that featured an illustration of two ski-shod kittens plummeting down a snow-covered slope. Freeman wrote that he was going to be vacationing on Nantucket. "It seems only fair to send a kid to camp!" And he did, contributing $590, the cost of one kid for one week.
An ostrich stares at me from the Nature Conservancy stationery that Cynthia and Michael Headman sent, along with a $35 camp donation in honor of Bob Levey. (Remember him?)
Somewhere in her house, Audrey Hatry of Northwest has a pad of paper decorated with a drawing of a young bear sniffing a flower. "Hope they meet a cub at camp!" was the message with her $590 donation. Mary Ann Harrell's $600 donation was accompanied by a note on watermarked stationery featuring her name in raised letters at the top, a pleasing bit of texture that was fun to run my thumb along.
Some missives are just a single Post-it note stuck to a check. "My birthday present to myself," wrote Vienna's Beth Brackett with a $600 gift. "In memory of my own camping days," wrote Jane Papish of Chevy Chase with her $40 donation. "We hope you're able to send every needy child to camp," wrote the Weck family of Baileys Crossroads with a $50 contribution.
Nancy Hanmer of Cambridge, Md., jotted a note inside a Hallmark card decorated with an impressionistic field of flowers. She was a counselor at Camp Goodwill in 1953, and her brother Alex Johnson was one at Camp Pleasant a few years later. She honored those days at Camp Moss Hollow's two predecessors with a $20 gift.
Handwritten, typed on an old Selectric, printed out from an inkjet -- the heartfelt notes are reminders that we're far from a paperless world.
One of the plainest pieces of paper bore one of the most moving messages. On a rectangle of white paper that she folded in thirds, McLean's Nina Cullen wrote: "Many years ago a lady named Moses paid for a week at camp for me when my folks could not. I've never forgotten her kindness and try to do the same every year."
I'm grateful for all of these donations, the large ones and the small ones, the ones that come automagically via the Web and the ones made out in a spidery hand on a check, accompanied by a note wishing us luck in our campaign. The gifts will go to work immediately, ensuring that hundreds of kids who might otherwise spend the summer in a sweltering city apartment or on the streets can let their souls stretch a little under the endless sky of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
That's worth writing about.
Send a Kid to Camp
It isn't too late to help us. Since the campaign began June 1, Washington Post readers have donated $292,013.08. Our goal is to raise $750,000 by July 23.
Here's how you can contribute: Make a check or money order payable to "Send a Kid to Camp" and mail it to: Attention, Lockbox, Department 0500, Washington, D.C. 20073-0500.
To contribute online, go to www.washingtonpost.com/camp. Click on the icon that says, "Make Your Tax-Deductible Donation."
To contribute by phone with Visa or MasterCard, call Post-Haste at 301-313-2200 on a touch-tone phone. Then punch in KIDS, or 5437, and follow the instructions.
Loaded down with pennies, nickels and dimes? You may drop off coins. We'll count them and roll them and convert them to more easily negotiable instruments. Same with foreign money.
And if you work at a company that matches employee contributions, don't forget to fill out a matching donations form.
I got a call from Channel 4's Tom Sherwood the other day. He had spotted a humorously incongruent pair of bumper stickers on the back of a van. One proudly proclaimed: "My daughter is in the Coast Guard." Right next to it was one that said: "Pray for America."
How much damage could one woman do?
You Can Tuna Piano
I don't know why this struck me as funny, but earlier this week The Post cafeteria was serving "tuna loin." I didn't know tuna had loins but apparently they do, and now I can't get the image of a tuna's heaving loins out of my mind.
Heave your messages my way at firstname.lastname@example.org. Or send them the old-fashioned way to The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071.