McLean In an era of e-mails, text messages and tweets, the art of writing a letter hasn’t been lost on McLean resident Joe Reynolds. It’s something he was raised on, his father and grandfather wrote him letters while he was at college, a tradition that he continued while his three children were away at school.
"Our kids are about four years apart, so I had a good 12 years of writing them letters at least once a week or every other week," he said. "This eventually evolved from what I did over the week, which got dull, to my reaction on certain things. My kids found it amusing, and they said they would read them aloud to their friends."
After all three graduated, Reynolds found it wasn’t a habit he wanted to drop, so he found himself expanding on standard thank-you notes and other correspondence. After the responses to his letters grew, he decided to ask if people wanted to subscribe to his letters, all typed on his computer but sent on paper through the mail.
"I had about 40 people respond to the initial note, and it eventually grew to more than 100 people, some of which I didn’t even know, they were just friends of friends, that sort of thing," Reynolds said. "I like the idea of a letter, because I think it’s an art that’s being lost. Unlike an e-mail, a letter is something you sit down and compose, it feels more permanent, because it’s on paper, it comes to your house. And people like getting letters. So much of mail is bills, ads or junk, it’s fun to get a letter from someone you know."
AFTER HIS RETIREMENT, he began to toy with the idea of putting together a collection of his letters, aiming to compile 20 of his favorites. He ended up with 22 letters, which form his first book "Measured Out in Teaspoons."
On the surface, the letters cover topics such as a bathroom renovation or a camping trip, but they contain deep musings on concepts such as marriage, aging, the existence of God and friendship.
Reynolds, despite describing himself as an "overly serious fellow for most of my life," has infused the letters with his dry, humorous takes.
"Over the years, I’ve come to believe more and more that life is comedy. If you can laugh, that’s a good thing, if you can laugh at yourself, it’s a better thing and if you can share that joke with someone else, it’s better yet," he said. "These letters are all about sharing the joke, and writing them has helped me appreciate the comedy in my own life."
Each letter is about 2,000 to 3,000 words, and most start with a normal life event before detouring into deeper territory. A trip to the grocery store turns into a reflection on capitalism, an observation on his lack of fashion sense into how suits foster a sense of anonymity.
"The letters usually start with an idea, and that idea gets tossed around my head while I’m driving or trying to sleep and eventually it gets written down," Reynolds said. "I sit down and write it, then polish it, each letter is revised about 10 times before it goes out. I’m always checking to make sure I’ve used the right word, or that I’ve captured an image the way I wanted to."
REYNOLDS HASN’T LIMITED his letter writing to his book either. He writes a yearly letter to his grandchildren on their birthdays, letters that they can open when they turn 21.
"My grandfather wrote a genealogy of our family, and there was an entry about someone who died falling in a well. But there was nothing else. I found myself asking about what happened. Was he drunk? Was it an accident? There was no information. These letters are meant to be information along with the color and flavor of our culture and community," Reynolds said. "When they open the letters on their 21st birthday, it will be a sort of outline of parts of their lives that they may have little or no memory at all. And it’s entirely possible that in 21 years they’ll be reading about a mention of movies or computers and say ‘What’s a movie? What’s a computer?’"
"Measured Out in Tablespoons" is available on Amazon.com, and information can be found at www.facebook.com/MeasuredOutInTeaspoons.