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For many, if it doesn’t come with an envelope and a stamp, it isn’t mail

Say what you will about Facebook, the immediacy of a text message or the convenience of email. For many, including Paulette Bushnell of Albany, there’s still no substitute for getting a personal letter via the U.S. mail.

“It’s sad that people don’t write letters anymore,” she wrote last October in reply to the Gazette-Times’ query seeking comments and anecdotes about the ancient — and some say dying — art of letter-writing.

Not so, said Bushnell:

“I come from a family of letter-writers. My mom and aunt wrote to each other every week ... My mom wrote beautiful letters weekly to her five adult children.”

Bushnell’s love of writing also found expression in other ways. She produced a cookbook and sold four stories to Good Old Days magazine, recalling events from a family history that stretches in the mid-valley back to 1908 (“My grandfather built a house on land in Corvallis that’s now the football stadium’s parking lot”).

Her most enduring correspondence was with her former neighbor, Nita Fuson. She was 14 and Nita was an engaged woman of 26 when the two young women from Salem became friends in the summer of 1949. For the next 60 years, they exchanged letters almost every week. Most were about the weather, little jokes, recollections of their youth and whatever was going on with their families.

“It’s always a treat, getting a letter,” Bushnell said. Even after her own marriage — and the arrival of seven sons and two daughters — neither time nor distance stopped the friends from writing. And even when they both lived in Albany in their later years, Nita sent letters, including one from August 2005 that began “Hel-oooo my neighbor down the road.”

Until the tremor in her hand became too strong and her eyesight too weak, Nita wrote to Paulette. She died in March 2011. Bushnell cherishes the letters that remain.

“A letter from Nita was almost like a face-to-face visit,” she wrote. “I sure miss receiving personal letters. It seems to be a lost art.”

But not quite.

Bushnell has a new correspondent. Her 11-year-old great-granddaughter, Samantha LeCoca, said she was practicing her cursive handwriting in a recent letter: “Dear Grandma Paulette. I am reading a great book called Falling in,” Samantha wrote in a cordial note that concluded “P.S. Sorry about the bad cursive. It is in regular on the back.”

“That is a girl after my own heart,” Bushnell said.

And while young people such as Samantha consider printing the “regular” way of writing — and some schools across the nation are even giving up on teaching cursive writing entirely, Bushnell has taught Samantha the exercise that she learned years ago to limber up before sitting down to produce a hand-written:

“I make a long series of connected loops,” she said, gracefully moving her hand through the air to imitate the warm-up motion.

Her handwriting still looks like a perfect replica of the cursive letters that are displayed at Lori Tubbs’ class in Mountain View Elementary School. Tubbs soon will be teaching her third-grade class how to write cursive. On Thursday, the class of 25 students was preparing to write replies to their pen pals at Ashbrook School.

For the third year, Tubbs is teaching young students the fine art of communication by letter. She passed out letters Thursday to her class that were written by their pen pals at the Ashbrook School. In the half-hour before lunch, they were planning to draft some replies.

Tubbs began by writing some possible topics on the board: how Christmas went, news from the family, incidents to share about the recent floods as well as questions that might stimulate further communication and sharing. Tubbs sat with them to edit each letter. When the copy was clean, the students then would transfer their letter to stationery and mail them to the Ashbrook students.

Although a few stared at the paper, most set right to it.

For 8-year-old Karina Smith, who had filled half a sheet of paper less than 20 minutes into the exercise, this was nothing new. Two years ago, her best friend, Aurora, moved with her family to Ohio.

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“I have lots of experience,” said Karina. “I write a couple of letters a month sometimes.”

The days when Aurora’s letters arrive are special ones. And when she’s done reading, the letters go into a folder for safekeeping.

Aida Wolters, 8, had some big news: The young soccer player recently had a chance to meet internationally famous soccer player David Beckham, and she was still savoring the experience. It was worth putting to paper.

Tubbs said the lessons in letter writing are more than an exercise in a dying communication method; they are effective ways to teach story-telling and the art of conversation. The students were learning how to pick up on the threads of communication and how to share common interests.

At Hoover Elementary School, teacher Kim Perdue’s fourth-graders are pen pals with fourth-graders in Surprise, Ariz.

“Their teacher, Marci Partida, is a friend of mine from college (we got our Master’s together at OSU.),” wrote Perdue in an email. “So far this year we have each received a letter from them and sent postcards in return. We are currently finishing up letters to mail back.”

Purdue said that third-graders at Hoover also run a school-wide post office for three weeks starting the second week in February. The entire school writes letters and postcards, and the third-grade classrooms take a week each to run it:

“They pick up mail, sort and cancel it (putting incomplete letters in the ‘dead letter box,’ which are sent back to the students to fix) and then deliver the mail to the appropriate classrooms. All of the classrooms have mailboxes that we deliver for this, along with plenty of stationery and stamps (student-made.) Parents can mail a letter to their child from the office!”

The lovers of letter-writing are not limited to the very young students or those who grew up writing letters back when they were the only communication game in town aside from long distance phone calls.

In Chicago, two young women have founded the The Letter Writers Alliance, an online group that is dedicated to the art of sharing the written word on a piece of paper, folded, addressed stamped and mailed.

Founded in 2007, the group is not yet an international powerhouse, but it is almost 2,000 strong according to founders Kathy Zadrozny and Donovan Beeson. They both were traveling Thursday and could not return email and phone calls, but their website — http://ow.ly/8HXKd — said members “carry on the glorious cultural tradition of letter writing. You will take advantage of every opportunity to send tangible correspondence. Prepare your pen and paper, moisten your tongue, and get ready to write more letters!”

Both Bushnell —and 8-year-old Karina — said that as long as there is a post office, they will continue to write letters. And what about the bump in the cost of a first-class stamp, which went from 44 cents to 45 cents on Jan. 22? No problem. That’s a bargain for what you get, Bushnell said. 

“As long as the post office keeps delivering the mail, I’ll keep writing.”

P.S. 

Among the others who wrote to us to share their comments about letter-writing:

• Roxie Putman of Albany: “I have all the letters that my then-boyfriend wrote during the late 60s, early 70s while he was serving in the Marine Corps. We married in 1972. These letters are even more precious to me today, as he was killed by an ‘impaired’ driver on May 21, 2004.”

• Sara Jameson of Lebanon, who loves to select and send cards to friends and family and sees this kind of written communication as a way to preserve family history: “Finding old letters is great. I loved reading my grandfather’s letters from his honeymoon (1890s) in Paris, telling his mother that he was catching on to the “Frenchy lingo” (spoken by the Parisians). So charming for a history professor who became chief of manuscripts at the Library of Congress.”

• Ruth M. Fanger of Monroe, who has switched to typing because it’s easier at 86, still used fancy flowered stationery to express her enthusiasm for letter-writing: “I LOVE finding personal mail in my mailbox — letters hand-written or typed, folded, addressed, stamped and mailed by the sender. Email just does not carry that personal touch.”

• Hina Rehman of Corvallis had a different take. Although she agrees “ ... there’s something about receiving mail in an envelope that’s special, and I still look back at letters and invites from friends written long ago, none can compare with the ‘letters’ I receive from my fiance.” The couple, who were due to marry in December, send private messages several times a day via Facebook.

• Marion Whitney was inspired to write a moving letter in support of letter writing that concluded “I have been writing for most of my 84 years, with many breaks during college, career, marriage and raising children but now have the time to write. I write to Kaye, whom I met in kindergarten in 1933, and Philancy, who lives in Italy. We met when we were ten years old. Dorothy and I went to high school together, and Jean is a dear friend I met sometime in the last 25 years, who moved to St. Helens. Yes, I have email, but that is nothing like sitting on the deck on a sunny afternoon with a yellow tablet and pen and ‘talking’ with a friend. I cherish these times.”

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