When I was a kid I rarely got mail. And when I did, it was usually a card from a relative or a
note from a pen-pal.
These letters came in packages of different shapes and sizes and would usually have an off-kilter, hand-written address adorning the centre of the envelope. Such addresses provided clues about the identity of the sender. For example, if it was a girl, the mailing instructions might be written in fat, loopy cursive; if it was a boy, it might be impatient chicken-scratch.
My Grandpa had an efficient, ALL-CAPS style that was rendered ever-so-slightly shaky by arthritis. My method of printing owes much to his.
If the letter sender was particularly diligent, the envelope might also feature small drawings or stickers to increase the individuality of the article. Despite the inherent difference of each piece of mail, most of them had two things in common: they were heartfelt expressions of affection, and they went grossly unappreciated by me.
In those days, whichever of my parents picked up the mail would place it on the edge of the dining room table so that the other parent could leaf through the bundle when the opportunity presented itself. This mail-drop location allowed me to see what “adult mail” looked like, and I was jealous. Their correspondence was not an assortment of higgledy-piggledy envelopes; most of their letters came in standardized, off-white, 4” X 8” envelopes — projecting power.
The style of letter that I most romanticized was the kind that came in an envelope with a clear plastic window on the left hand side. The exact size and location of this window varied, depending on the institution sending the letter, but they were generally about one inch high and four inches long. Peering out from behind this window would be my parent’s name and address, in perfectly uniform computer font.
To me, these letters symbolized prestige and importance and I couldn’t wait until I started receiving them. Now I receive them all the time. In fact for each thoughtful, personalized piece of mail I get, I probably get 10 of those envelopes with the clear plastic windows.
What I know now is that such envelopes rarely contain good news. Rather they are overwhelmingly composed of bills, statements, and other documents reminding me I am only hanging on to middle-class status by my fingernails.
It would be easy to laugh off my childhood reverence for clear plastic windows as an example of the adorable naivety, but I don’t think I’ve learned much. I still unduly romanticize other people’s situations. The chasm between what I perceived clear plastic windows to be and what they actually were is a good reminder to find small satisfactions in my present station in life.
And to write more letters.