Letters I Never Mailed


SUE SAYLE REITH did magazine work in Chicago and New York after her graduation in 1945 from the University of Minnesota. She is now living in Pasadena, California.

THE nearly annual clearing out of 1 my desk drawers would be an onerous task if it weren’t for the intense pleasure derived from reading over all the old letters that I never finished writing and, of course, never mailed. These ancient documents are uniformly worthless and almost always of an indignant nature. Most of the time, in thoughtfully perusing them, I am unable to recall just what it was that got my dander up.

Setting things down on paper almost invariably serves to dissipate my passion. Sometimes, though, the mere sight of my fine, wrathy phrases so inflames and further enrages me that I have to abandon the project for lack of coherence.

For these reasons, there exist innumerable persons and institutions throughout the United States who will never know how much they have provoked me, and who have no idea how lucky they are that expressing myself in writing has a purging effect. Although I’m far too inhibited to give an offending party an oral dressing down, on paper I just can’t be beat. For instance, there’s this partially completed epistle that was never sent to the adjustment department of a local store. It begins with this rush of dignified fury: —

“Gentlemen: For several weeks, with great loss of time and patience, I have been telephoning your store in an attempt to adjust the matter of defective dinnerware that was sent to me. The fact that it has taken inordinate effort on my part to seek satisfaction from you does not testify to your efficiency. I shall not trouble myself to detail the numerous ways in which your lack of organization has inconvenienced me.”

Then I go on to detail the numerous ways. The lengthy complaint is dotted with insulting key phrases like “ostensibly efficient,”"lack of thoroughness with which I have grown so familiar,” “if it is not beyond your limited powers,” and sweeps to a climax that leaves me breathless: —

“It would be interesting to ascertain just what organizational peculiarity makes it necessary for customers to do battle before obtaining satisfaction from your store.”

At this point I impetuously scurried off to hunt up my charge plate so that I might mail it in and thereby confound them by closing the account. Something interrupted the frenzied search, and a few days later I got around to calling the store and requesting, very docilely, that they replace the dinnerware.

Then there was another letter that kindled my self-respect when I glanced over it again recently. It had to do with a sum of money that I was supposed to inherit. Surprisingly, I had actually sent off a letter to the executor of the estate, asking how much if amounted to. He had written back advising me to contain myself and trust him to settle things fairly. Although the bulk of my reply was rather tame, there’s one paragraph that merits quotation: —

“I regret it if I have seemed to you to be overexacting with regard to details. However, I have always found a certain advantage in possessing a maximum of information about matters that concern me very intimately. Except for the advantage in having the requested information, my interest in the money itself is far less ardent than you might imagine.”

Nyah! I’ll bet that would have put the old fogey in his place — if I’d sent it. The arrival of a modest chunk of money — for which I was able to work up something like ardor — set me to the less familiar task of composing a letter of gratitude.

There’s one communication that I can’t quite figure out. It appears to be the second page of a lengthy missive intended for a local government official. I vaguely recall a steamy telephone session about the malpractices of certain employment agencies I had been dealing with. More than that, I can’t tell. All I have to go on, in addition to a cloudy memory, is these enigmatic words: —

“. . . not suggesting that you deliberately prefer to side with the agencies. All I can say is that if you feel that the investigation is completed merely because my charges have been pooh-poohed, then I fear that you have been hoodwinked. If you wish to continue the investigation, using the additional information that I have given you, I must ask that you proceed without further coöperation from me. Somehow, I’ve lost my enthusiasm for correcting wrongs.”

Above “correcting” the word “remedying” has been lightly penciled in. I think that I really prefer that. It has more dignity, and apparently dignified redundance is to be my stock in trade.

A rather weak creation that lacks dignity but is certainly redundant is addressed to a sister-in-law and is a hodgepodge of explanation about a family Thanksgiving dinner and some pies. I don’t know just exactly what happened there, but she and I are still rather guarded with each other. It is doubtful whether the letter would have eased matters, inasmuch as I can’t get its point even now, after several readings.

The only trouble with my irascible pastime is that quite often I feel I have settled matters simply by jotting down my views. The fact that I never send the letters has nothing to do with it. The catch is that I act as if I had mailed them — sometimes guilty over the insults I’ve dashed off, sometimes haughty and distant, awaiting the apology that I have demanded so grandly. The other person continues to behave just as if things hadn’t been swept to a climax — which leads to all sorts of confusion.

I have a complete assortment of these documents and, come to think of it, since they cover such a wide variety of subjects, I might do well to compile them into a handy little reference book. With only a few minor changes on the part of enterprising readers, they could be adjusted to fit almost any situation. Anybody want an irate letter written?