Boomers Wrote — and Received — Letters

You’ve heard it before: “Writing letters is a lost art.” Boomers understand that statement because In the heyday of the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s, letter writing was a common part of everyday life. Boomers wrote letters — usually by hand — to grandparents, aunt and uncles in other states; friends who moved away; as soldiers and to soldiers; from vacation postcards to Christmas year-end news; and more. This ubiquity is evidenced by music of the era, which referenced sending and receiving letters.

I’m Gonna To Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter
Every now and then a song comes along that is so popular it is covered by numerous artists over multiple decades. In this case, the song was first popularized by Fats Waller in 1935. There were rock treatments and jazz treatments galore in the following decades, including during the boomer years, by Frank Sinatra (1954); Billy Williams (1957); Bing Crosby (1957); Bill Haley and his Comets (1957); Nat King Cole (1964) and a host of others.

Return to Sender — Elvis, 1962
Boomers fully understand the lyrics of this song, especially …

She wrote upon it:
Return to sender, address unknown
No such number, no such zone.

People who received a letter by mistake would often write on it, to tell the postman the reason — no such person at this address, return to sender, etc. It would be left in the mailbox for the postman to retrieve. The post office would then ink it with a “return to sender” stamp. Early-generation boomers also recall that postal zones were the forerunner to Zip Codes, which weren’t introduced until 1963, but weren’t widely adopted until 1967.

Mr. Lonely — Bobby Vinton, 1962
Bobby Vinton got the idea for this song about a homesick and lonely soldier while he was in the Army in the late 1950s.

Letters, never a letter
I get no letters in the mail

All My Loving — The Beatles, 1963
This song by Paul McCartney shows that lovesick boomers relied on the mail to stay in touch when they were away.

Close your eyes and I’ll kiss you
Tomorrow I’ll miss you
Remember I’ll always be true
And then while I’m away
I’ll write home every day
And I’ll send all my lovin’ to you

Please Mr. Postman — The Marvelettes, 1961
An absolute necessity in any exploration of letter songs, this one illustrates the anticipation and frustration of waiting for a letter that does not arrive. It was Motown’s first number one hit, and the only number one hit for The Marvelettes.

Please Mr. Postman, look and see
Is there a letter in your bag for me?
‘Cause it’s been a mighty long time
Since I heard from this boyfriend of mine

The Letter — The Box Tops, 1967
A quintessential “letter” song, Alex Chilton sang:

Lonely days are gone, I’m a-going home
My baby, wrote me a letter

Boomers know what effect a hand-written letter could have, especially if it was welcome news.

How about you, boomers? Have your letter-writing days been replaced by social media, direct messaging and email?

Boomers Remember 60 Years Ago

Where were you in ’62? If you are an early-years or mid-generation boomer, then you probably have memories of August, 1962. Mister Boomer remembers brightly-colored summer clothes and a hint of foreboding in the air that back-to-school time was drawing near.

See if you recall these facts and events:

• John Kennedy was President of the United States.
• The month began with the death of Marilyn Monroe, from a fatal overdose of medication.
• The Soviet Union conducted the second largest nuclear test in history by exploding a 40-megaton hydrogen bomb.
• Patsy Cline released her final album, Sentimentally Yours. She died in a plane crash in March of 1963.
• Herbert Hoover was present to dedicate and open The Herbert Hoover Presidential Library, in West Branch, Iowa. Hoover, the 31st President of the United States, was celebrating his 88th birthday.
• The Soviet Union leapfrogged past the U.S. space program by launching two manned spacecrafts into orbit back to back. Volstak 3 was launched on August 11, 1962, and Volstak 4 launched one day later. The plan for the two spacecraft was to have parallel orbits, allowing them to establish radio contact until their return to Earth on August 15. At their closest point, the two spacecraft were just over 3 miles apart. The effects of space on the cosmonauts’ health was part of the main mission.

• Pete Best was fired as the drummer of The Beatles, on August 16. He was replaced by Ringo Starr, making his first appearance as a Beatle two days later.

• John Lennon married Cynthia Powell in a secret ceremony in Liverpool.
• Mariner 2, the first successful space probe launched to another planet, was launched by NASA on August 27. It reached Venus on December 14, 1962. Both the U.S. and the Soviet Union had previously failed attempts at missions to Venus.
• On Billboard’s Hot 100 chart, the number one hits of August 1962 were Roses Are Red (My Love) by Bobby Vinton and Breaking Up Is Hard to Do by Neil Sedaka. Familiar names in the Top 10 that month included Pat Boone (Speedy Gonzales), The Orlons (The Wah Watsusi), Ray Charles (I Can’t Stop Loving You), Ray Stevens (Ahab, the Arab) and Little Eva (The Loco-motion).

Mister Boomer recalls the death of Marilyn Monroe as it was reported on TV. He also remembers hearing Neil Sedaka’s and the other songs of August 1962 playing on his transistor radio. His mother favored Bobby Vinton’s Red Roses (For a Blue Lady), which is why Mister B has that 45 in his collection now. Though an avid fan of the Space Race early on, Mister B can’t say he remembers anything about the Volstak 3 & 4 missions.

How about you, boomers? What do you remember about August 1962?