A few Februarys ago, Mary decided there should be a letter month, as there is also a novel-writing month. If one wrote 50,000 words on a novel, one could surely send 23 letters in February. Couldn’t they?
When I was a wee Elise, my grandfather Tobler showed me a collection of leather-bound books he kept. Within these books, one for each grandchild, was a collection of coins, beginning with the year of their birth. There was a book for me, of course, and it made me wonder what else he collected and why. He showed me his collection of postage stamps, kept in books, and bags, and more in worn shoe boxes. Some were even framed upon the wall. I was gone.
Going to my grandparents’ house became something I really looked forward to, because I knew there would be afternoons spent digging through those bags and boxes. My grandfather helped me order a stamp collecting book from Scholastic and the next time I came to visit, I had it with me. It didn’t matter that the stamps were cancelled — I almost preferred them with some age on them. I learned how to soak the stamps off paper with warm water (which does not work as nicely with self-stick stamps, they are quite the horror); I learned how to handle the stamps with tweezers and put them into my book with crinkly glassine hinges.
We spent hours working together and I spent more hours alone, and was unbearably excited when I found the inverted Dag Hammarskjold stamp in one of the shoe boxes.
“It’s not the inverted print,” my grandfather said.
“It’s not. I’ve been through those boxes countless times.” He folded the stamp into his hand. “Keep looking.”
But it was. I looked and looked and studied the notes in my stamp book, and that was the stamp.
In my LetterMo profile, I make a note that I collect stamps, and ask people to send me an interesting one. It is a hobby that I have kept since my childhood, since the day it was born in my grandparents’ basement (this is also where my love for large walk-in pantries began).
I used to write more longhand letters than I currently do, but last year, and this year, I’ve made an effort to do more, and not just in February. This year, thanks to artful encouragement from Beth and Natalie, I am sending out watercolored postcards in addition to regular note cards. I also made a folded paper Valentine.
My grandfather died a few years ago, and I wondered what would become of everything he collected, but especially his stamps, because we had spent so much time pawing through them together. When I asked about the collection, my family expressed surprise that I still collected stamps. It sounded like disbelief. How could anyone keep a hobby that long?
I asked what would become of the collection. I never got an answer but for they were willing to give me “part” of it. To which I said no, because no matter how I wanted it, I didn’t want the collection broken up. In hindsight, it’s probably worth a mint, but that’s not why I wanted it.
Every stamp I collect these days — whether I place it in a book or slide it into a worn shoebox — makes me think of my grandfather, and the afternoons we spent, sitting arm to arm, sorting and sharing and giggling when we found something amazing. I am still looking for that stamp, even though I know where it is.
LetterMo reminds me of these afternoons, too.