Receiving a letter should be fun. Last time we talked about my mother’s and grandmother’s conversions from hide-bound traditionalism to more creative thinking in the letter-writing department. This time I’d love to share the little tips we collected over the years about making a letter special.
- Write on pretty stationery. (Bet you knew I was going to mention that one!) Whether you love vintage papers you find on eBay or at the antique store, get something that expresses your personality. You may be the little kitten type or the abstract type or the gold-border type. No matter what your personality, let it shine on paper as well as in daily life.
- Coordinate the ink color. Now this may sound silly, but some colors just don’t go together. Can you imagine brown ink on lavender paper? Blue would be a better choice. Or my friend’s purple!
- Have fun with pretty stamps. The U.S. Postal Service comes out with all sorts of commemorative stamps. I usually buy the birds and flowers, but often people who have been in the military prefer receiving a stamp depicting the flag. It’s a nice touch to coordinate the stamp with the envelope. I recently had to put an orange zinnia stamp on a lilac envelope. It was not a pretty sight.
- Enclose some little lagniappe – a little extra something of interest like a little pressed flower or a short poem may be just right. Photos are a nice touch, and with a little cutting and pasting and resizing, you can use photo editing software to print two small pictures on 4-by-6 inch photo paper, and voila – small, wallet-size pictures that will fit into any envelope. Just don’t overdo it. No one wants to open an envelope and then spend five minutes on their knees crawling around to pick up all the little treasures that fell out.
- Of all the things we can send, something of ourselves is always the most meaningful. If you can take the time to make a little drawing or write a stanza of verse, your reader will know you truly care. My great grandmother was a master of sending bits of poetry, and they are treasured today.
- Make your recipient feel loved (unless it’s your boss or your friend’s husband; in that case skip this one). Don’t just talk about yourself or brag on your children. Of course you want to pass on information, but not to the extent that you come across as egocentric. You’re writing because you want to talk to them, not go on and on about yourself. Asking questions shows the person that you care about them.
- Mention those they love. Inquire about their pet. It’s a nice practice to take a little present of dog treats to a collie-owner’s party, and it’s equally nice to mention Buster and Fifi in a letter.
- It goes without saying that we should adjust our handwriting to a larger size when writing to someone who doesn’t see well, and to print a letter to a child who doesn’t read cursive handwriting.
- Always write with the person’s last letter before you. Everyone knows that annoying feeling of waiting for an answer to questions in a letter and then receiving a reply that makes you wonder if they ever received it.
- And always, always, send your regards to the rest of the family or group. Unless you just can’t stand Aunt Ann – then leave this part entirely out rather than pointedly naming everyone except Ann. Or you can just add “Remember me to everyone.” Then however she takes it is up to her.
There are some things we should never do. Some of them, like juicy gossip, can be hard to resist. But my mother said we really must try:
- Don’t be pessimistic. Try to encourage people. Remember that they may read your letter over and over, especially in times of stress or illness. Just a few words of comfort can mean so much. Never put on paper something such as “It’s too bad he’s sick. I hear most people only survive a few months with that.” If the person isn’t depressed already, that’ll do it.
- Don’t use curse words. All letters should be G-rated, as you never know where they might be left out where someone other than their intended recipient can read them.
- Don’t get in the middle of a quarrel. The dust may have settled by the time your letter is received.
- Never criticize other people. There’s enough of that. Be the lark singing in the tree, not the vulture circling overhead.
For more ideas and sources:
Crane & Co. has beautiful, traditional stationery and a host of useful information, such as forms of address and answers to etiquette questions.
Click on the U.S. Postal Service to see the current stamps on offer and other mailing goodies you can purchase online.
Click on Peter Pauper Press for stationery and note cards to fit any taste.
Click on eBay for some real treasures of vintage stationery and cards.
If you’d like to include a beautiful quote or piece of verse, check Bartleby.com. I chose the “verse” tab and typed in “blueberries”. There were three lovely poems!
Text copyright 2015 Jill Teresa Farmer. All rights reserved.