I got my first fan mail about 40 years ago when I was a young radio announcer in Globe, Ariz.
The boss had given me a two-hour record show and I'd done my best with it, only to get a letter the following day saying, "We think you stink. Why don't you get off the air? Would you please play 'El Rancho Grande?' "
I'd have cried except 18-year-old males in Arizona do not cry.
I'm getting letters again. And they're still getting to me, but in a different way now.
A woman who lives in a retirement village in Southern California liked a story of mine about a couple who had almost waited too long to begin their traveling.
"I could identify with those two people," she wrote. "My husband and I yearned to travel but there was never any money for it. But though it looked hopeless, I started saving. It took me four years, putting a little by each month, but I did it.
Traveled to Europe
"I got just enough together. We didn't travel first-class but we got to Europe.
"And you'd never believe my husband's face when we visited the Forum in Rome by bright moonlight and no one else around; so there I stood, where Marc Anthony stood, and treated my captive but willing audience, my husband, to, 'Friends, Romans, Countrymen, lend me your ears. . . .'
"We went to Arles, too, Van Gogh country, and Holyrood Castle where I stood where Rizzo was murdered. And I dragged my long-suffering husband heaven knows where else.
"Oh, what a time we had. What memories we made.
"Here I am now, a widow, but at least I don't have to say, 'If only we had gone here or there . . . if only.' Because we were there, together, at the right time, the last possible right time. It was 18 years ago, but it was. It happened. I made it happen."
She didn't want her named used, but she thought it important that her message be passed on.
Some time later I wrote an article based on the fact that my wife and I had grown to feel guilty about not traveling enough, regardless of the costs. Soon there-after, a post card was forwarded to me by the Los Angeles Times.
It was short, almost abrupt, but the writer made his point: "Dear Sir, Because of your article my wife of 50 years made me cash all my war bonds and take her to Europe. It was the best damned money I ever spent. Thank you."
Lonely Old Man
After a reminiscence about a lonely old man on a bus tour of Europe, a note came in from a Tacoma, Wash., reader.
It began, "I'd always traveled with my wife. Every year we'd go somewhere, right up until her death in the 1960s. The year after she died I didn't know what else to do so I went on a tour alone.
"On one of the first nights, at the get-acquainted party at a hotel in Lisbon, in a room full of people, I found myself more lonely than I had ever been in my life. No one seemed to have either a word or a moment for a single old man.
"I remember leaving the party and the hotel and walking along the waterfront for hours. If human beings could wish themselves dead I would have died that night.
"Then, at the foot of the main street, I stopped and looked up. There, against a million stars, was this statue looking out toward the open sea. I said to myself, 'Don, self-pity's no good as long as there's something to do, somewhere to go, something to see, something to be.
"That statue's looking toward the New World. Your old world is gone and you're still here, so you'd better quit writing yourself off and get on with your life."
I've corresponded with the Tacoma gentleman ever since that first letter.
Recently he wrote that he had just come back from another trip. He'd been to see his daughters, and then had gone on to Auckland and Fiji and San Francisco.
"The only problem is I sure am torpedoing my bank account," he wrote. "However, I can't get any younger, can I, so now's the time."
In Don's most recent letter, written on New Year's Eve, he mentioned that he had just bought an electronic typewriter "to train on" because he was thinking of buying a computer. He also said he was planning another trip.
When I wrote to Don, whom I've come to think of as an old friend (and not just because he's 85 years old), to ask his permission to quote his original letter, he answered by return mail.
"This %&$! typewriter," he wrote, "thinKs it knowsmore tan I kNow. tHinks ii'ts goinG to cute me down to size. Haw, strike the e on that cute."
Strong, Shaky Hand
Suddenly the typing stopped and the letter continued in Don's strong, if somewhat shaky, hand.: "I see what you're trying to do," he wrote, "and this is too important for me to trust to a dumb typing machine, so I'm going to say it with plain old ink.
"Of course you can quote me. Those people who read about travel in the papers, shake 'em up. Don't let 'em waste life. Let 'em know that. Like me, they can't get any younger, either. Tell 'em about me and some of those other people who didn't give up on their dreams. Don't let 'em write themselves off. It's a beautiful world. They should get out and see it. Tell 'em."
Don, my friend, I think we just did.