A month or so back, I received a long blue envelope in the mail, and inside was an irregular-shaped post card sent to me from my friend, Beth, who is living in Bordeaux with her husband, Kris.
The postcard was lovely, and contained greetings from Beth and Jason, our pal who was visiting her for a few days. They met up in Paris and sent the card, of what, I can’t say just now, perhaps a panorama view of the Seine—something outsized and requiring special wrapping for its overseas journey.
What I was most taken with was the envelope. Baby blue and impossibly thin, I hadn’t seen such a thing in years. Hadn’t seen it since the Seventies, probably, when I wrote my brother in the Navy when he was posted abroad. In those days envelopes had to be stamped “AIR MAIL” if it had any hope of arriving in a timely manner. Mail, so marked, was bundled and loaded onto cargo planes bound for Europe, or Japan, other exotic locales.
The rest of it got dumped into the hold of some slow boat to China, or Athens, or Hamburg, and arrived, oh, really, who can say? A lot can happen to a canvas bag heaved onto docks and flopping around the damp of a cargo hold, and who knows how much of it gets where it is going.
All mail is air mail now, of course, or mostly all of it. But back then, air mail was expensive and postage was assessed by weight, and thus, the thin blue stationery.
I would drive my grandmother to the post office and we would pick pads of note paper and envelopes, the same blue color, onion-skin thin, so we could write my brother. The post office sold pre-stamped sheets of air mail stationery—and we filled up the blank backside of the paper, and then spent a minute or so performing arts and crafts as we folded along dotted lines and made flaps from the odd triangular wings until we had a self-contained letter and envelope, all in one.
The business side of the envelope was pre-stamped with proper postage, and the words “par avion” and “air mail” jumped off the page. I mean, really, does it get any more cosmopolitan than that?
Beth has been in Bordeaux for almost a year now, and she and I chat on occasion through Facebook. We make plans to Skype or FaceTime but somehow that never quite happens. I think, well, I will write her a long newsy letter, but that never happens, either.
But something about that thin blue envelope made my hands itch, made me tear off her return address in France—a physical address—and save it. Something in the familiar feel of it sent me to the office supply store and the post office in search of air mail letters.
No one seemed to know what I was asking for, although the older clerk at the post office remembered that “foldy paper” people used to buy. I returned home discouraged and rummaged through my stationery drawer looking for any old thing.
Still, the idea of writing Beth in France on short fat note paper left me completely and utterly cold.
It lacks cache.
I eventually had luck on-line, and found air mail envelopes, the colorful ones with the red, white and blue checked borders, sporting a round crest with “air mail” in three languages. The ultra-thin paper is on its way, but it must be in some back corner of a warehouse somewhere, because it has been a couple of weeks and still no sign.
I think Beth needs real mail. I think I need to write her real letters. I think those letters need to look like something. Something to remind me that this piece of paper is traveling a great distance, and it is of some import, even if it is full of nothing more than the gossipy goings-on of our friends.
I will write small, and neatly, like I did on those winged pieces of paper long ago. I will admire the blue ink on the blue paper, and think it pretty, those shades of blue. I will take my time to write, then post the delicate envelopes, making a special trip. I will go inside.
It doesn’t matter what Beth does with my letters once she gets them. It only matters that she gets them, from me, and that they go par avion.