Column 116

 

Licking. You know. You stick out your tongue, open the flap of an envelope, run your tongue along the gummy edge, hoping not to get a paper cut, and then stick down the flap. Licking.

When Canada Post created its reactive hullabaloo before Christmas, saying some of us are losing our door to door mail dellivery, it got me thinking about Dave. Dave has been our letter carrier at our last two addresses, following us from the city's eastern edge to our current downtown location. Dave is loyal and committed. The only day he doesn't deliver is the day the dog is tied outside. Dave and the dog have not discovered each other's finer points.

Now it seems that the Dave's of Barrie will be taking on some new role, perhaps remotely piloting drones that will drop our packages on our front stoop, packages full of items we've ordered and paid for online.

I'm not panicking about all this stuff; I expect to be getting Minwax stain from Steve at Robinsons Hardware for years to come.

But, it did get me thinking about envelopes. I mean, if everyone's reading on tablets and laptops, and everyone's ordering online, and everyone's receiving their bills by email and paying with their online transfers, really, what's the point of the envelope?

During my lifetime (this is when I can sound really, really old to my kids) I've seen the miracle introduction of the rotary dial telephone and the fading obsolescence of the 'operator'. I've seen the miracle of phone message machines, of fax transfers, and then--omigosh--cordless phones. And now it seems that every kid in every school from age 4 up has a cell phone!

I still have several rotary dial telephones tucked away in the storage room downstairs, just for posterity. And I predict that in short order we're going to kiss--or lick--goodbye, the envelope.

How many birthday cards did you receive through webmail this year? Christmas cards? How about updates from your financial planner? What about your monthly CPP or Old Age Security payments? Are they directly deposited into your bank account or do you get to open an envelope?

First manufactured on a machine in 1840, the envelope is 174 years old. Prior to that, envelopes were made by hand. And, of course, envelopes come in hundreds of sizes... teeny ones for your ring left at the jeweller's; huge ones for storing old portraits, and everything in between. They come in all kinds of papers, too. And, of course, we lick them closed now, no longer using the drop of wax and signet stamp to close them off. Envelope making machines begin with wood pulp and use incredibly complex industrial machinations to cut, score, and fold sheets of paper into a variety of envelopes.

Remember in the 1980's how typewriters were being replaced by enormous, desk consuming computers, their dot matrix printers drilling an ache into your head? It didn't feel like the typewriter would completely disappear, but have you tried to buy typewriter ribbon lately? How about carbon paper?

And so I rest my case about envelopes. Technology will trump tradition yet again. Whatever will we do with our beautiful letter openers, the one given to us for graduation by our grandmother; the one presented by our company for long, loyal service? The satisfying whisk of paper knife along seam to reveal a missive hidden inside. No, I think it's all going away.

Right now as I write this (word processing it on my Macintosh keyboard) I'm at my mother's antique pigeon hole desk. Sitting before me are both my parents' beautiful fountain pens, their bladders recently restored by a company in Los Angeles. There's a bottle of ink on the shelf, too. And in one of the drawers is that pencil thin eraser that fits in between the typewriter keys to erase one incorrect letter. They just sit here, nestled in my past.

I think I'll soon put my beautiful letter opener in that pigeon hole, too. Perhaps a box of envelopes will join the rotary dial telephones downstairs, just so one day someone will open the box and say, "what in the devil are these for?"

Technology. Tradition. Hmmm.

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