Mom Inc.

That Old Feeling

Maybe there’ll be something today

By Renee Whitmore

It’s a cold afternoon in January in North Carolina. The wind whips against my face and turns my nose pink as I walk a quarter-mile down the gravel driveway to the mailbox.

For a moment an old anticipation fills me, then goes away just as fast. There won’t be anything fun waiting for me. There never is.

I peer into the black metal box lined with rust and am greeted by a Piggly Wiggly advertisement cradling my water bill. I grab them, firmly shut the mailbox lid, and walk back up the gravel drive, careful not to step in puddles that may or may not turn to ice after the sun goes down.

I chuckle. I still feel excited every single time I check the mail even though for the past 20 years, I have received no letters. Maybe a card or short note here or there, but none of those handwritten letters that stretch out for page after page after page.

I started getting them when I was around 8 years old. I religiously read a magazine named Clubhouse filled with stories, games, even artwork. I read it cover to cover, and then cover to cover again. Even so, I almost missed it. On the very last page of the magazine, there was an ad for “free pen pals.” All you did was send your name and address to Clubhouse, and they would send you a pen pal in return! Giddy with a joy I could hardly contain, I cut out the ad, filled in my name and address, and stuck it in a stamped and carefully addressed envelope. Into the mailbox it went, red flag waving brightly to alert the postal worker there would be important outgoing mail that day.

I waited. I checked the mailbox multiple times a day. Maybe my reply would come special delivery. A week stretched into two and then inched into three, and then . . .

There it was. Clubhouse responded after three weeks and two days. Just for me. The name and address of my new pen pal.

Mary from Washington State. She was 8, too.

She had dark brown hair, five brothers, and liked to play soccer.

We wrote letters back and forth for several years. We wrote about all the things that 8-year-olds used to talk about: playing outside, riding bikes, annoying brothers, pizza, that kind of stuff.

Pretty soon I had another pen pal. Carrie from Canada.

Carrie liked cats, parties, and she always wrote about her boyfriend, Derek, which at that point, I thought was just yuck.

Pretty soon I gained more pen pals. One from Florida. One from California. One from Indiana. A few from Texas. One from Austria.

All through my childhood and well into my teenage years, I spent my afternoons and evenings writing letters to people all over the world. On an average day, I might get five or 10 letters in the mail. I would read and reread my letters, spread them out across my bed, and start writing back to whoever was on top. It was the most exciting part of my day. Nothing made me happier than pouring my heart into writing to someone I had never even met. At least not in person. 

My family and friends bought me stationery, envelopes and stamps for Christmas. The rest of the year I used my own money for the essentials. At 14 I started working for a catering company just to support my pen-paling habit.

Eventually, my pen pals started to dwindle, and I started letting too much time pass before I wrote back to them. After a while, the letters built up into a pile waiting for a response. Life evolved into other interests, and my pen pals just kind of . . . faded into the background.

Now, at 36, I have no pen pals. In fact, I wonder if anyone writes and receives letters in the mail anymore. I Googled pen pals, and the first hit is a “social networking app that allows you to send messages and easily make friends all over the world.” Cool, I guess, but it doesn’t seem quite the same. Not page after page after page. Not piles of paper spread out on your bed.

Still, Monday through Saturday — except holidays, of course — around 3 p.m., my heart beats a little faster when I see the mail truck rattling down my road. A familiar hope returns.

I reach into my mailbox and pull out a Pinehurst Toyota advertisement. Oh, and there’s another bill in there. Looks like Spectrum.

The most pen pals I had at one given time was 80. Not even I get that many bills.   PS

When Renee isn’t teaching English or being a professional taxi driver for her two boys, she is working on her first book.

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