Posted tagged ‘nostalgia’

Magic of a Writing Hand – Part One

May 19, 2011

Hand with pen, copyright 2011 by Alicja Mann

I pulled a creamy envelope from the mailbox with excitement when I saw my name and address written by hand in black ink. A nice feeling of anticipation enveloped me. “Looks like somebody wrote me a letter,” I thought and ripped the envelope impatiently with my index finger. Two printed sheets of white paper fell out of the envelope and landed on the floor. I picked them up and quickly learned it was not a personal letter, but advertising from a local company. I felt disappointed and somewhat cheated. So I tore the envelope into small pieces and threw it into the trash.

“You are so gullible,” I scolded myself, understanding that I had been fooled by clever marketing people who know how attractive it is for anyone to see a hand addressed envelope waiting patiently in the mailbox. That “personal touch” of marketers is pretty well known and used to ensure that the envelope will be opened. “Oh well,” I thought, “not the first time and not the last one!” Still, I was bothered by it and I tried to define why.

It is really pretty simple — postcards or letters written by hand are very special, particularly in today’s rushed world, a world in which we are preoccupied with the Internet, social networking, and mobile phones’ amazing capabilities. We do not have time, or take time, for writing personal letters or colorful post cards while traveling. Why to bother when one can write an e-mail, attach some photos and send them directly and instantaneously? No paper, no ink, no stamp, and not much time consumed. Better yet, one can send the same e-mail to many friends at once. Yes, it is very efficient! Yet, the charm of a note written by hand is indisputable for me. It is slower — much, much slower — but such a card or letter represents a lot more.

Collage of correspondence

For me seeing someone’s familiar handwriting evokes a warm emotion, as if that hand is touching my hand. I imagine that person choosing the card in some local gift shop or pharmacy, later sitting at the table, desk, or nightstand, and writing by hand. Addressing it carefully, so there are no mistakes, is very important. Postcards usually do not have space for a return address. When they are lost, they are lost for good! Placing a stamp and smoothing its surface with the tip of the hand gives the card an extra touch. Finally it is ready to be mailed and to start its travel to the destination point. Sometimes the distance is short, but it’s often long. The recipient can imagine the journey each time a new card arrives.

Being very sentimental, I have been keeping many special letters and cards in a protected place. Today I looked at them as if they were little pieces of art. Actually they are! Many contain memories and touches of people who are no longer among us and those pieces are becoming even more precious.

Collage of correspondence

Each card or letter is unique — the strokes of the pen are fixed on the page at the moment of writing. The grey, transitory e-mailed words shimmering on the computer screen do not hold a candle to the handwritten words arriving in my mailbox. But they arrive very seldom… I also send them very seldom….

Today however, I decided to write a few colorful postcards and send them to some friends in faraway places. Maybe you will too.

P.S. Just in case you would like to send me a postcard, my current mailing address is:

Alicja Mann
P.O. Box 32855
Tucson, AZ 85751
U.S.A.

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Text and photos copyright © 2011 by Alicja Mann.

Blue Days of December

December 17, 2010

I am in a “blue” mood — dark blue as can be. That is to be expected. It happens every year. It is December, the month of traditional holidays and the month when I get my dose of the traditional blues! Yes, I know it is pretty common — many people get the blues around Christmas for a variety of reasons — mine are caused by nostalgia. I am wrapped in it like in that dark blue fluffy tissue which comes with other colorful tissues for stuffing gift boxes and bags.

For some years it was nostalgia for my native Poland and my family there. Since I moved to Tucson I have an additional one — a nostalgia for Massachusetts, specifically for Boston and Cape Cod. I miss my good, long term friends — who through the years became my extended family — whose children grew up with mine, went to school, graduated and flew into the world.

This double-dose nostalgia intensified for me in recent years — my parents are no longer waiting for me in Warsaw…only their graves. Of course some friends and members of the family are still there, but somehow after my mother’s death I can’t gather any excitement for going there. Well, maybe next year….

Christmas card from Poland Polish paper-cut tree (Wycinanka)

I will always miss the Christmas cards that my mom wrote. She made sure that they would arrive on time, because she always included in them a traditional Polish oplatek — a thin wafer that symbolizes bread to be shared with others at the Christmas Eve table.

I truly love living in Tucson with its warmth and blue skies, but at this time of year I can’t help but miss pine trees and the little chill that makes us sit at the fireplace and sip warm apple cider or red wine. Mostly I miss the traditional Christmas Eve, the aura of it, the anticipation, the charm, and the magic of the traditional Christmas carols. I believe some things that we learn to love as children stay with us forever.

I wrote about my childhood Christmas times in Poland in my book Looking at the World Twice. You are welcome to download and print that story, Christmas.

Actually I was able to recreate that special mood and importance of my favorite day of Christmas — Christmas Eve — in our home on Cape Cod.

It all started the first winter of my single motherhood. I wanted to have a Christmas as in Poland — magnificent and magical for my children — but did not have any family to share Christmas. My Polish family was across the ocean in the hostile political system of those times and the American family was gone — as happens after divorce. I was truly scared, especially before such an important holiday, that no one would invite us to share it with them. I was scared to be just the three of us — two small boys and I at the big, lonely table — so I decided to invite others to that table for my traditional Christmas Eve.

I invited a very friendly family in the neighborhood, a family of six — a couple with three children and grandfather. It was one of the best decisions of my life! Grandpa Lloyd became a very important figure for us and especially at Christmas — he read the traditional Christmas stories to the kids (and us) after supper every Christmas Eve. The next year another family joined us, then another, and some friends. The traditional sitting at one table was not possible anymore, but we did not mind.

Later, I got remarried. Some of the families had new babies. More friends and families joined our Christmas Eve gathering. It became huge! … so did our Christmas tree. We all listened to Polish carols (from a record) and sang American ones (from printed books and notes) — we ate, we drank and we were merry, plus a bit tired that night of Santa’s arrival, but again we did not mind. The Christmas Eve at our home became an annual event that nobody wanted to miss — it was our tradition for 17 years.

Christmas tree Christmas tree detail
Christmas tree detail

Now I miss the huge Christmas tree in the house on the Cape. Our home’s raised roof allowed us to “invite” such a big tree for Christmas. It felt and smelled as indeed the forest had come for a visit.

Decorating the tree took long hours. After finishing, we listened to my favorite Polish Christmas carol. I found that carol on YouTube so you can listen too.

Now in Tucson I miss those Christmas Eves very much, but it is impossible to recreate them. We are all in very different stages of life and far away from each other. In Tucson with 75 F warmth it still seems strange to me to shop for a Christmas tree — an activity which in the Northeast was so much fun on a cold, crispy day with a bit of snow on the ground.

Christmas has a different charm in Tucson. Here it is fun to wait till the 45 F or so of the evening, put on some light boots and a jacket, and walk in a park or in a neighborhood to enjoy colorful lights on lavishly decorated homes and trees. Also the traditional luminarias, characteristic of this region, add to the enchantment.

So perhaps it is time (for me) to give up the idea of a large Christmas Eve gathering and to create another possibility for being with others during the winter holidays — maybe a New Year’s Eve celebration?! It fits better with Tucson’s starry nights and our southwestern house with the large patio. I will let you know.

Happy Holidays!

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Copyright © 2010 by Alicja Mann


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