Saturday, April 09, 2011

Snail Mail

Odds are that sometime today you emailed or texted or tweeted someone and got something back. Didn't make any difference where they were or what they were doing. They saw your note, typed a response and send it, a process that likely took less time that it did to read this sentence. That speed and ease makes its easy to forget that, short of a phone call, the only way you used to be able to reach someone was by the quaint process of scribbling something on a piece of paper, slipping it into an envelope and dropping it in the mailbox. For the kids in the audience, we called this "mailing a letter."

But that's just what Danni did back in 1993. Her father was having some health issues, and was anxious to try and reestablish some long dormant family connections. So at his urging she penned a letter to his nephew, the son of a brother who died while in the service. Trouble was they had no idea where he was. Danni took a flyer: since her uncle died while in the service, she figured there was a chance that the Veterans Administration knew her cousin's whereabouts. But VA privacy rules meant they wouldn't give her that information. And while they would accept the letter and attempt to pass it on, they wouldn't tell her if it was delivered successfully.

Still, it was the only shot they had, so off it went. And the response? A deafening nothing. Did it get through? Did he receive it and not wish to respond? Did he get it, but had issues about what to say? Good questions, all. But silence was all they heard. And so Danni and her life went on. She and her husband sold their house in Connecticut, retooled their lives and moved to the Cape. Danni's dad passed away. And every couple of years, once that internet thing caught on, she would google her cousin's name and see if anything popped up. But nothing surfaced, and it slipped to the back corner of her mind.

Then just a few weeks ago she was visiting her sister in upstate New York. They were sitting in the family room having a glass of wine and chatting when the phone rang. The answering machine was turned up, and an unknown voice began to talk. It turned out to be their cousin Mark, calling Danni's sister's after he had tried Danni's place and gotten her husband, who had given him her sister's number. As they heard who it was, and that he had the letter she had sent 18 years before, Danni responded appropriately: "I totally freaked! But we couldn't get to the phone fast enough!"

Turns out that the letter had made its way to Mark's mother who either forgot about it, misplaced it or something. She had recently died, and he was going through her stuff when he found it. "He was apprehensive but his friends convinced him to take a shot," relates Danni. "He's got no other family. So he tracked me down on the Cape, and my husband told him I'd been looking for him for forever. He called, and well... you could have knocked my sister and I over with a feather!"

They started to catch up, seeing who remembered what. Seems that part of the reason Danni couldn't locate him online was that he had changed his name legally when he was about 18. "He said he had no real connection to the family so the name meant nothing much to him. I guess that his mom kept the letter all those years was a big surprise." Still, it didn't take long to reconnect: "We talked on the phone for over 2 hours on Friday night, friended each other on Facebook, and my sister and I were able to show him pictures of the family." They made plans to get together in a central spot, he and his partner, and Danni, one of her sisters and their respective spouses.

How did it feel to reconnect with someone she had been wondering about for 18 years? "His calling us was as good as winning Mega Millions. It was exciting and a little strange as well as scary, but it was something I had waited for for so long. I can't help but thinking that my Dad is watching and smiling. I was never a patient person and he always gave me grief about that. I know it's trite, but if I learned anything it's that patience is a virtue, and good things come to those who wait."

That, and that snail mail can be really, really slow.


Marc Wollin of Bedford doesn't remember the last time he wrote an actual letter. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review, the Scarsdale Inquirer and online at

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