Spreading the Word

Ron Wayne

I BOUGHT AND SENT 16 Christmas cards this year. Why spend $6.99 for the box of cards and $9.60 for stamps? I frequently communicate with most of the recipients via email and texts—but that’s why the cards are special.

Apparently, many other Americans feel the same way. Billions of cards are still bought and presumably sent each year, despite the cost of postage, according to the Greeting Card Association.

I could send virtual cards. But do they stand out amid the blur of other messages, both personal and commercial, in someone’s email inbox? It’s simply more personal to know the sender took the time to choose cards, buy stamps, address the envelopes and write a personal note. It’s an extra effort for me because the quality of my penmanship has suffered over time. I blame it on decades in newspaper journalism, where I developed my own style of shorthand. To be honest, I can barely read my own cursive, so I print carefully.

Growing up in the 1960s, I remember my parents would receive enough cards to fill a basket. Everyone sent cards, even if they were family members we were likely to see on Christmas. I loved opening them up to see the variety. I was always impressed by people who had paid for embossed cards with their signatures, but I now realize that wasn’t very personal and perhaps a tad pretentious.

It’s quaint to consider how envelopes were addressed with formal and sexist courtesy titles. For example, a widow was Mrs. John Smith, as though she still had no identity of her own even after her husband died. A divorced woman could still be a missus and use her ex-husband’s last name, but not his first or even her first name. Her maiden name was now her first name, such as Mrs. Jones Smith. That’s what etiquette expert Emily Post advised. Thankfully, times have changed.

That said, I always thought it special to see cards to me addressed as Master Ronald Wayne before I became a mister.

Starting in 1964, the U.S. Postal Service adopted a cartoon character named Mr. ZIP to prod the nation toward more efficient and accurate deliveries by using ZIP codes. Did you know ZIP is an acronym for “zone improvement plan”? It could be a question in the next trivia game at the local pub.

To make room for the five-digit ZIP codes, the USPS pushed the consistent use of two-letter abbreviations for states. But I recall some friends and relatives still used Penna., instead of Pa., for Pennsylvania.

Cards any time of year can lift the mood of elderly friends and family members who might live alone. I sent cards regularly to a favorite aunt who didn’t have email and who was difficult to talk to on the phone. Sending a personal, handwritten card can mean a lot to people like her.

The Idaho Commission on Aging launched a campaign this year urging people to send cards to residents of nursing homes and assisted living facilities. It’s a wonderful idea. I hope more states do the same.

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