Just then the mailman came by Villa Villekulla.
“Well, sometimes one does have good luck,” exclaimed Pippi, “and meets a mailman just when one needs him!”
She ran out into the street. “Will you please be so kind as to deliver this to Miss Pippi Longstocking at once?” she said. “It’s urgent.”
The mailman looked first at the letter and then at Pippi. “Aren’t you Pippi Longstocking yourself?” he asked.
“Sure. Who did you think I was, the Empress of Abyssinia?”
“But why don’t you take the letter yourself?”
“Why don’t I take the letter myself?” said Pippi. “Should I be delivering the letter myself? No, that’s going too far. Do you mean to say that people have to deliver their letters themselves nowadays? What do we have mailmen for, then? We might as well get rid of them. I’ve never in my life heard anything so foolish. No, my lad, if that’s the way you do your work, they’ll never make a postmaster out of you, you can be sure of that.”
The mailman decided it was just as well to do what she wished, so he dropped the letter in the mailbox at Villa Villekulla. It had scarcely landed before Pippi eagerly pulled it out again.
“Oh, how curious I am!” she said to Tommy and Annika. “This is the first letter I ever got in my life.”
All three children sat down on the porch steps, and Pippi slit open the envelope. Tommy and Annika looked over her shoulder and read.
I SIRTINLEE HOP U R NOT SIK. IT WOOD BE 2 BAD 4 U 2 BE SIK. MYSELF I AM JUST FIN. THER IS 0 RONG WITH THE WHETHER ETHER. YESTERDAY TOMY KILT 1 BIG RAT. YES.
THAT IS WHAT HE DID.
BEST WISHIS FORM
“Oh,” said Pippi, delighted, “it says exactly the same things in my letter that it does in the one you wrote to your grandmother, Tommy. So you can be sure it is a real letter. I’ll keep it as long as I live.”
from Pippi Goes on Board by Astrid Lindgren, translated by Florence Lamborn
While Pippi may disagree and etiquette books will instruct you differently, the construction of letters is a wide open field of possiblities. Having a variety of correspondents means encountering different approaches to letter writing and repeated opportunities to expand my own ideas on what constitutes a “real” letter.
I used to rate long letters as more real than any other kind. Over the years, I’ve developed an appreciation for compact letters, postcards, and things that are not letters at all. In part, I think my new definition of what constitutes a real letter has developed as I changed my thinking on whether letters need to be a 1:1 exchange.
In addition to writing to people I know only through letters, I also like to send letters to people who I know in real life. Not all of those people are letter-writers. Sometimes I mail a note to a friend and get a text in reply or a Facebook post saying “thank you!” I think that’s great, because even though it’s a different medium, it brings the connection started by the letter full circle. And in my book, regardless of length or construction, the realest letters are the ones that create connections.
How do you define a real letter?