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In e-mail age, still nothing like a handwritten letter

By Rachel Rodriguez, CNN
  • The U.S. Postal Service may stop Saturday mail delivery next year due to budget woes
  • It's the latest in a series of blows to "snail mail," which has been on the decline
  • For many, letters still mean more than e-mails or text messages
  • Here, CNN iReporters remember some of their most treasured letters

(CNN) -- E-mail is quick. Texting is convenient. Facebook has photos, videos and games.

But for all the fancy, multimedia modes of communication out there, nothing beats the thrill of opening the mailbox and finding a personal letter, written and addressed just to you.

"Snail mail" has been under attack for the past several decades, with the U.S. Postal Service reporting a drop of 10 billion letters in the past 20 years. Literally billions of e-mails and text messages are sent each day. And the Postal Service says that unless something changes very soon, it plans to stop Saturday mail delivery beginning next year.

The prospect of no longer receiving letters has many of us thinking about what makes them so special, remembering the most meaningful ones we ever received, and even vowing to send more letters to friends and family.

Samantha Nelson's boyfriend teaches English in South Korea. And since she was still a student at Florida State University when he left, she couldn't go with him. Now it's his monthly letters that make the pair feel connected.

"We have wrestled with the technological failings of Skype, Facebook, Twitter, Gmail and so on," says Nelson. She posts the letters from her boyfriend all over the walls of her bedroom "so that I always feel like part of him is here with me."

I always feel like part of him is here with me.
--Samantha Nelson

"The letters are different from e-mails and talking on Skype," she says.

"The letters are a way for him to express his thoughts and feelings on something I can touch and feel and smell, since I can't do any of those things while we are apart."

Letters were important for Mike and Bobbi Stouffer's relationship, too, even though they weren't living across the world from each other. The couple have been together for 20 years, and they still leave notes for each other almost every day in their Wausau, Wisconsin, home.

"The strange thing is that we have never been that far apart -- sappy, huh?" says Mike. His wife, Bobbi, has saved all their notes to each other over the years in a box.

"When we first started dating, we worked different shifts," Mike says. "[It] was nice to wake up and see a note or card left on the kitchen table or taped to the TV. I didn't know she saved them."

"They helped our relationship develop in a big way," he says.

"Letters have always been a nice way to show someone when they are gone that you're thinking about them. Reading them now, after so many years, shows why we are as close as we are today."

And sometimes, letters help us express our feelings in a way that we can't over the phone, through e-mail, or even in person.

Erika Garces, now 30, received a letter from her father when she was 15 years old. She was away from her home and family in Peru preparing for her confirmation. It's the only letter he ever sent her, and it still makes her tear up every time she reads it.

"My dad, while he shows me everyday how much he loves me, hardly ever expresses it with words," says Garces. "For some reason it makes my parents uncomfortable to express with words how they feel for us, and think that actions are enough. Granted, words with no actions mean nothing, [but] actions without words lack something."

It makes me feel so important.
--Erika Garces

Garces translated parts of the letter, originally written in Spanish, that mean the most to her: "He says, 'I have been thinking of you all afternoon and all you mean to me, all the memories of you since you were born until now that you are rapidly becoming a little lady. ... I want you to know that you are the most important thing for us because you are the fruit of love.' "

"It makes me feel so important," she says. "I know very well that I was born from love, as my parents have an amazing marriage, but I needed to hear it."

Tiffany Christman also needed to hear from a loved one, and she never expected it to happen the way it did.

Christman was partially raised by her grandparents. She shared a special bond with her grandmother, who died in 1998 after a long and painful battle with breast cancer. Christman visited as often as she could, but hadn't seen her grandmother for about two months when she received the news about her passing.

"The family told me it was probably for the best so that I remembered her better and not as suffering, [but] there were so many things I thought about on my drive from Georgia to Kansas for her funeral, so many words I hadn't said, thank yous I felt I owed her," says Christman.

"I guess that was the hardest for me during the funeral as well, knowing that the moment had passed by for me to tell her how much I appreciated her."

After the service, Christman, along with each of the other children and grandchildren, was handed a white envelope.

"I initially thought it was some cruel and overly efficient attorney's way of trying to deal with paperwork at the wrong place and time."

"I remember I got in the car and I saw one of my cousins holding his envelope and crying. That's when I realized it was from my grandmother," says Christman.

"Reading her letter made me feel like she was responding to my unspoken thoughts. In a way it was comforting -- I didn't feel so much like I had missed that opportunity to tell her because she seemed to already know."

Christman has kept the letter with her for 12 years now, "always in sight."

Of course, letters don't have to be personal to carry meaning for the recipient.

As a kid, Uf Tukel received two letters from President Ronald Reagan. One congratulated him on becoming an Eagle Scout; the other was sent to the winners of a national youth year award.

Email can never replace the excitement and thrill of receiving and opening a personal letter.
--Uf Tukel

"Both are clearly form letters and President Reagan's signatures were obviously preprinted," says Tukel, who recently found the letters in an old scrapbook while cleaning out his garage in Delray Beach, Florida. "But when you are 14 or 18 years old, you don't know the difference and you don't care. It's a letter from the president."

"E-mail can never replace the excitement and thrill of receiving and opening a personal letter from the White House," Tukel says. "The hard card stock, and the thick, embossed paper -- it just feels presidential. E-mail just doesn't have the same effect."

Even for those of us who are guilty of never sending mail, we still love to receive it. That's what inspired Allison Young of Atlanta, Georgia, to start writing letters again.

Young loved the letters that her sister, who is 10 years older, sent to her while in college. Now, years later, she decided to pass along a little of that love by sending a letter or postcard to a friend or family member every day for a month. She admits she's fallen behind a little, but is determined to keep the project going.

"I love getting letters and cards and postcards from people -- they always put a smile on my face."