My son recently asked, “Dad, how do you fall in love?”
I thought for a moment (noticing my wife looking up from her book) and explained I didn’t know exactly but believed it started with a smile or a laugh. A few days later, I came across a box of old letters, which made me rethink my reply. While sifting through the letters, I realized how technology has altered the communications landscape with writing becoming a lost art.
Today, a few strokes of the keyboard and click of a mouse and we communicate with passels of “friends.” It’s too easy. Clicking “like” doesn’t exactly convey the depth of emotion of a loopily written S.W.A.K. (sealed with a kiss)
I’m no friend of e-cards either, which I can’t tape to a wall or place in a wallet. And technology can’t replicate a perfume-scented letter from a special someone.
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Even school notes with the cautionary warning “For Your Eyes Only,” once passed surreptitiously in math class, results in giddiness 30 years later. In reading those letters that afternoon, I realized how wrinkled pieces of paper were actually tickets to purchase a few moments of the past.
Ask an “old” soldier what the highlight of the day was, and he or she will often respond with “mail call.” For centuries, soldiers saved, cherished and carried letters to read, and reread, in the rain, snow and desert heat.
Tracing scrawled lines with our fingers allowed time to reflect on both past and future. When the first sergeant called a name and produced a letter — maybe one with smudged lipstick on the outside — other soldiers crowed while secretly hoping the next letter was theirs. Those letters kept us going and preserved our innocence, even if just a little.
Letters can also heal. I once told a priest about a falling out with an individual. He instructed me to write a letter to the individual — not exactly the penance I expected — but I complied. In my mind’s eye I saw my former friend sifting through the mail, pausing at the letter, and reading it in the quiet of his home.
Soon after, we rekindled our friendship. Unexpected letters are sometimes the best of all.
Because somebody took the time to write, seal, stamp and mail them, letters carry sentimental weight. I still have a letter Ms. Tina Gallo wrote when I was stationed overseas.
On the front read, “Pictures: Do Not Bend.” Pictures?! I ran to the barracks to open the letter in private while wondering what type of pictures Ms. Tina had sent this lonely soldier.
Alas, they turned out to be pictures of a litter of puppies her dog recently delivered. Still, I wrote back. Our friendship eventually bloomed into romance and Ms. Tina Gallo became Mrs. Tina Krompecher. I have kept all her letters.
In a few years, I hope to dive into those letters again and possibly contact the senders — ironically, via Facebook — to laugh about shared naiveté. If not, they’ll be there for my kids to read and discover more about their Old Man.
Maybe they’ll understand how clumsy attempts to write their mom helped navigate the intersection of loneliness and hope and made my world shine brighter. Maybe I’ll explain to my son that love sometimes begins with a letter.
Lt. Col. Zoltan “Z” Krompecher is a Green Beret. He plans on sending his war letters to author Andrew Carroll’s War Letters Project at firstname.lastname@example.org and encourages others to do so. These views are his own. Reach him at email@example.com.