Letters From Camp and Other Superfluous Writings

Paul Richardson
Guest Columnist

When I was entered college in the ‘70’s, communication with distant places was in an entirely different place than the current state of affairs. The local telephone exchange, whether it was Ma Bell, a Baby Bell, or a privately held concern, all of the hardware was owned by that exchange. Residences and businesses alike simply utilized the equipment provided to them. If you wanted to communicate in a different fashion, then the only other option was to write a letter and send it through the postal system.

There weren’t any facsimile machines, texting was unheard of, and video calls or facetime was a concept of science fiction. I recall attending a summer camp in the mid-60’s and it was a mandatory activity to write a letter home about mid-week. The camp was only one week long, so there was a real good chance that I was going to arrive home before that letter was ever delivered. This seemed like a total waste of time to me.

Years later upon entering the university, it was expected of me to write my parents on a weekly basis. Mail coming into our house was collected twice a day at the local post office and then distributed in the central mail box at the house. I lived in a fraternity with about sixty-five other guys, so there was a regular flow of mail. My dear mother was very faithful as I received a note from home on a weekly basis if not more frequent. The one fruitful thing about writing home from college was that this was a practical method of communicating my current financial status and the need for pocket money. My dear mother always placed a twenty-dollar bill in an envelope that resided in the glove box of my car. This was designated as emergency money and to this day she maintains that I had more emergencies that she could have ever imagined.

So, let’s review, there were two basic types of communication, phone calls which were long distance charges and that I never wanted to spend the money to make and the ever tedious, yet faithful written letter. Since my handwriting is exceedingly difficult to decipher, it was strongly suggested that I take typing when I was a sophomore in high school. This worked out rather well since I was the only guy in an otherwise all female environment and had I not been so shy and introverted, it would have been even better. That is all well and good, but a typewritten letter home that is sent by your son in college is so impersonal. Writing these letters was extremely tedious and time consuming since I had to properly express my needs. As a result, they were probably also noticeably short and to the point. In fact, I often felt it was simpler to drive the one hundred eighty-four miles one way and just deliver a verbal message. On top of that I could also take along my laundry and save those quarters for a pinball emergency!