I was just doing a Google image search for a project, looking for mid-century illustrations of couples, when a picture of a hand illustrated envelope popped up… It turned out to be one of many that one Cecile Cowdery drew on letters to her husband Ray when he was away as a soldier in World War II. Though they’re not postcards, I couldn’t resist sharing this snail mail find with you. Click here to see more of Ms. Cowdery’s charming envelopes and to read her short account of the role they played in her and Ray’s life.
I think wartime letters are the ultimate example of the value of snail mail. A letter–whether on a postcard or sheaves of paper–is an individual’s investment of thought and time for another person, which means the most when times are tough, both as writer and receiver.
Such letters continue to touch and inform people in the future as they read the news and pick up on the sentiments of the past, which are all the more effective because they were not written as documentation by professional writers.
Regular folks in letter-heavy times like WWII really could write, though. (And sometimes proved great artists too.) This is what comes to my mind when people question why someone who’s not an author needs to know how to write well, and why–in the age of word processing–anyone should still put pen to paper. People in the future will want to know what we average-joes thought and felt. Writing in physical forms is what will last; No one is documenting everyday emails and text messages, but postcards, letters from camp, etc. are cherished and saved. We must be able to express ourselves in writing if we want these physical jottings to be understood by people we’ll never know, just as we’ve had the privilege of learning about our forbears in their own informal words.
Stumbling onto Cecile Cowdery’s envelopes and their story reminded me of Grandma Snail’s trove of snapshots with letters on the back from a WWII soldier that I posted in June. I’ve never met Lieutenant Morris, but I feel like I knew him at that time of his life. Further, he gave me a sense of the experience of all the soldiers at the time and what letter-writing meant to them.
The beautiful thing is we don’t need war to write.