There’s an art and elegance to letter writing that electronic communication — email, texting, direct messaging, Twitter, and other ethereal forms — simply can’t capture. The biggest difference is also its most ironic: paperless communication encourages brevity and emphasizes urgency.
Why, I wonder, is there a weight restriction on email? NNTR. (No need to reply.)
Still, most reader letters do, in fact, arrive via electrons while ever fewer arrive via the U.S. Postal Service. That dwindling number reflects the plain fact that I may live to see the sad day when people no longer deliver their private thoughts and ideas on cursive waves of colourful ink that only I am allowed to read.
Maybe it’s that feeling of privacy that explains why some of my harshest critics find that only a handwritten letter packs the proper wallop when hitting me with a stinging jab or hard slap. For example, Mike C. from Texas, an impressively devoted despiser of my work, sent what he promised will be his last, anger-filled letter this past February.
“I will not be commenting on any more of your articles,” he wrote. “I sent a note back with my (newspaper’s) renewal notice telling them to notify me when and if they decide to delete your articles from their paper. I will renew my subscription then.”
Mike, if you’re still out there and sneaking a read of the column at the local library or from a neighbour, please know that life without your diatribes is like winter without pneumonia; the loss is noted but not missed.
(Three years ago Mike wrote to say he would never buy The Land of Milk and Uncle Honey, a book of my “youth” columns compiled by editor/daughter, Mary Grace Foxwell, and me. So I sent him a signed copy for free. Two weeks later, Mike sent more than enough money to cover the cost and he kept the book.)
Mike isn’t alone in his now-suspended mission to convert me from an ag journalist to an ag jingoist. I won’t highlight other very faithful, fire-breathing correspondents because this is, after all, a no-hate space.
The overwhelming majority of reader mail in the last six months — either in the mailbox or inbox — ranged from complimentary and encouraging to very caring and deeply personal. By far, the most responses came after an April column on my mother’s death and how, right to the end, she carried a heavy sense of weary disappointment and unrest.
Letters and emails poured in from knowing women and sorrowful sons alike. One of those sons, Jim A., wrote: “Thank you for your heartfelt eulogy of that most special person in our lives… Let us now resolve to be observant of the lot of womenfolk… and teach our children the value of compassion and appreciation.”
Another note that came through a mutual friend’s Facebook page thanked me “for speaking so lovingly of your mother. To me it was the most beautiful testimony any son could give his mother… I, too, married young. Treasure your children.”
Maybe the most touching email came from Fred P. who began by noting, “You don’t know me from Adam, but I just read your article ‘Mom deserves her eternal rest’ while sitting with my mom resting in hospice… I humbly pray the same thoughts for her when that time comes. Thank you.”
Much of the January-through-June mail, like Steven V.’s, encouraged me “to keep up the good fight over our politicians’ failures and unwillingness to stand up to special interests.”
I appreciate your encouragement, Steven, because, in fact, that’s the only plan I’ve ever had for the column since it began nearly a million words ago.
Still, I’m a piker when it comes to the writing readers who have sent me far more than a million words by ways old and new. Please continue because these conversations need to continue.
And, yes, that means even you, Mike.
The Farm and Food File is published weekly through the U.S. and Canada.