I still have them, tucked away in boxes and files labeled “Cards & Letters.” The handwritten envelopes addressed to Miss Cassie Collins, in my Aunt Rose’s perfect Palmer Method penmanship or my Grandfather’s shaky hand still pop up now and then in a drawer of this-and-that, having failed to make it to the files. (It’s my failure, not theirs.) Those first cards, delivered to me out of the evening mail that brought important bills and business, marked me as an individual worthy of note. I saved them long after I had spent the five-dollar bills sometimes included in them, and long after the brightly-wrapped baby dolls and toys from my family and friends.
Aunt Rose was the eldest daughter in a family of nine children. Her mother died soon after the youngest child was born. It was left to Rose to raise her siblings and be secretary to her congressman father. Rose had dozens of nephews and nieces, never any children of her own. I was one of the grand-nieces and lived on the opposite coast from her little apartment in San Francisco. I know I was not the only one to receive the never-belated card on my birthday every year. There was always a personal note included in the Hallmark greeting. Just a sentence or two that showed she was keeping up with my grade level or my summer plans.
The social media of our day required a personal investment through phone conversations—expensive when they were cross-continental—or letter-writing. I used to wonder how Rose kept track of all our birthdays until, as a young teen, I received a gift of a small orange silk-bound birthday book. I carefully wrote the dates of my family and friends in that book for years. Now, I am reminded of the birthdays of acquaintances on my phone every day, in time to write a quick greeting on their Facebook page. I have no illusions that Aunt Rose, who died at age 98, would approve of this shorthand. Still, I’m happy to see my own page light up with greetings on my birthday, and I hope it cheers others on theirs.
I have a few friends who still practice the art of letter-writing. Of course they are artists and writers. Who else but an Aunt Rose would take the time? The sight of a hand-lettered envelope immediately cheers me. A thank-you note arrived in my mail recently in the form of a red-checked fabric envelope replete with decorations including a “happy mail” sticker. Inside, the card was cut from an old calendar with pinking shears. It was from a dear friend, thanking me for the red-checked cake my daughter and I baked and constructed for her birthday. It was a labor of love that took us all day to make and decorate, and the card acknowledged our love as well as our labor. When I called to thank her for the card—a short-cut, I know—she told me about this “happy-mail” movement. It is a social media-inspired project started in 2014 to send snail-mail letters and packages to people who subscribe to a group online. But you don’t need to subscribe to a group to send happy mail.
My first happy mail is going to our first grandchild, Master Winter James Stratton, born last week. Maybe someday his birthday cards from Grandma Cass will help him value staying in touch with the people he cares about.