Thursday, June 29, 2017

You've Got Mail


Everybody's got their hobby. For some, its golf. For others, scuba diving or mountain climbing. For Wendi Harner, its handwritten letters. I have to hand it to my friend, who may be single-handedly keeping the post office alive in this modern age that has moved us from the swirls of penmanship and licking envelopes to sending instant messages with our thumbs. Writing letters is, as Wendi says, "a dying art."

As for me, I belong to the E-mail generation. It's how I communicate, all day long. But I can't even remember the last time my daughter sent me an E-mail. That's because her generation is almost strictly into texting. Young people her age are so into using their phones to text, that they can't even be bothered to speak into one. In fact her outgoing voicemail message is "Hang up and text me!"

But my friend Wendi sends real mail.  Like actual cards and letters that involve stamps, envelopes, trekking to the mailbox and the U.S. Postal Service. In fact sometimes she just throws it out there to the world and offers to write mail to anyone. "Want snail mail? I am your girl," she posted on Facebook. "Send me your address and I will send you something handwritten." 

And she will. She really will.
Everybody, meet Wendi Harner.
I found out about Wendi's passion for writing letters when I bumped into her in Safeway a few years ago and she asked me how my daughter was doing. We've known Wendi pretty much since Day 1 in Redding. When we enrolled Sophia at West Redding Pre-School, Wendi worked in the infant room. Sophia was with the pre-school kids on the other side of the building with Wendi's daughter Maddie, and a friendship was born between kids and their moms.

Back to that day in Safeway. I told Wendi that Sophia was having a tough time in the dorms because the roommate situation wasn't working out that well, and she'd just broken up with her boyfriend. Wendi asked me if Sophia might appreciate getting some mail. I gave her the address, and she actually sent her a sweet note of support which really made Sophia's day.

Wendi says writing has been one of her favorite things to do since she was in grade school and kept a journal. And around the same time, she grew fond of receiving mail, because her grandmother Iris sent her mail on a regular basis which often included goodies like gum, a few dollars or some stickers. So all of the mail Wendi sends today is decorated with stickers. But where did her passion for sending letters really begin? Well, it all had to do with music.


Wendi's collection of stationary.

"I've always been a music fanatic," Wendi told me. "My dream job was to be a singer, musician or radio DJ, and that is no joke! Remember Star Hits Magazine?" That was a magazine that had articles on popular alternative rock musicians like Adam Ant, the Thompson Twins and The Cure. Wendi says there was a section in the magazine called RSVP where you could write in, listing info about yourself and the music you were interested in. That's how she got her pen pals Susan in New York and Paul in Hawaii. "We still send each other snail mail after 36 years, and we all prefer snail mail over any other means of communication." She also had a pen pal in Kansas during junior high, and another in Egypt that she corresponded with for years until he got married, and told Wendi he wouldn't be able to write to a woman any longer. 
Madison Harner, crafter of homemade postcards.
There's one person Wendi has been corresponding with for years and years who has saved every single letter that she's received. That would be her daughter Madison, who - like my own daughter - is away in Oregon at college. Wendi visited her in Monmouth earlier this month and Maddie showed her a big box of letters...then told her mom it was just ONE of the boxes she's saved! Maddie thinks its pretty awesome that her mom sends letters to people. "She sends letters to a lot of my friends, even when they are as far away as France! Her letters make my day so much better, and I'm happy that she can make someone else's day too."

Unlike my daughter, Maddie actually writes back to her mom sometimes (Wendi says for every ten letters she writes she might get one back), but Maddie prefers to talk on the phone - which is also pretty rare these days for a person on the cusp of 21. But Maddie is starting to pick up some of her mother's passion. She says she prefers sending postcards to letters, and although her postcard of choice is to send something from an Oregon state park, she also likes to get crafty and make homemade postcards. 




Wendi gets immense personal satisfaction putting pen to paper, and says it's kind of cathartic. "Often I envision the person I'm writing to opening their mailbox and finding something delightfully positive among the pile of advertisements and bills."

Wendi says she sent over 25 pieces of snail mail last week, which might be a personal record. But she's got an ulterior motive right now. There's an entire movement dedicated to sending supportive and encouraging letters to women who have been diagnosed with breast cancer, and Wendi is all about kicking cancer's ass. So she's asking everyone she knows to join her in writing a letter of support through Girls Love Mail. Its a simple concept... you write a letter or two and send it to someone you don't know. But you at least know that this person has been diagnosed with cancer. Girls Love Mail bundles them and sends them along to cancer care centers. The staff then makes sure that your letter offering peace, support, love and well wishes will make its way into the hands of a woman who has just been giving some pretty awful news. Wendi even promises that for every one letter written by folks she's invited, she'll write another two. So don't let this girl down. She needs to break last week's record!

While you sit down and put pen to paper, let me entertain you with some music to write letters by. Just click on the play arrow in the embedded You've Got Mail Playlist below, or listen to it directly by clicking on the link. And let Wendi know if you've taken her up on the Girls Love Mail initiative with a comment below. It'd make her day. Also, if you know someone who's day Wendi could make with some  handwritten mail, all she needs is the address!

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