Love letters and other love letters

2013-08-25T00:00:00Z Love letters and other love lettersBY DARRELL EHRLICK Star-Tribune Editor Casper Star-Tribune Online
August 25, 2013 12:00 am  • 

In a file in the bottom drawer of my desk -- along with all the other files that have boring titles like "Syndicate Services" and "Social Media Policy" -- there is one that says, "Love Letters."

And yes, my wife knows about it.

None of the letters are from her.

I have kept such a file in my drawer since I was the editor of a small weekly paper in Utah more than a decade ago. When the file becomes unwieldy, I replace it with another that says, "Love Letters."

I am not sure what I am going to do with it -- maybe some day, I'll write a book, or come into the 21st Century and have a website dedicated to it.

The file contains a bunch of letters, correspondence, threats and conspiracy theories that make their way to my desk. Some are addressed to me specifically; others just land in my mail slot because no one is quite sure what to do with them and people assume being an editor somehow qualifies you for dealing with crazy.

I titled the first folder "Love Letters," because when I dropped the first letter in there years ago -- a letter which I've now long since forgotten -- I couldn't imagine what else to name it.

It wasn't hate mail. It wasn't fit for publication. And, I didn't want a file that just said, "Stuff." So, I decided to name it sarcastically.

I keep the folder so that if I ever end up as a corpse in a ditch, this will give authorities a head start.

Some letters and notes we can't print because of legal concerns. Others are too laden with profanity. Others are simply so bizarre or long they just can't run. I have a rule: I don't print what I don't understand (read: conspiracy theories involving birth certificates). Granted, that sets the bar awfully low.

For some odd reason -- and this probably says more about me than the people who write me angry conspiracy letters reeking of smoke -- I feel the need to collect them. Many of my colleagues when they get a note detailing their inadequacies as editors and human beings, simply toss the notes, understanding that taking a healthy dose of mean-spirited criticism goes along with the job. And yet, I have had letter writers concerned with the state of my soul. I have had letter writers who have demanded my immediate resignation.

One particular letter I turned into the police because of a threat.

These letters all have a theme -- if one can truly be ascertained -- people feel a keen sense of ownership of their newspaper.

And that's maybe why I keep them.

That file full of letters from writers reminds me that I, like the other editors who have at some point in time sat in this sometimes lonely chair, are merely stewards of a vital public institution, venerable and fallible.

I have never found an analog to this job, and God knows in my earlier years I tried (from sheepherding to mortgage brokering). I can't imagine a restaurant owner receiving a half dozen letters a week concerned with a particular aspect of their business. My father, who is an accountant, doesn't have a file of letters chronicling his performance, or suggesting a conspiracy theory in tax code, although I am pretty sure he's had that conversation.

Not all the letters in file remind me that I am hopeless, hapless nincompoop. A few kind souls have even liked something the newspaper has done or I've written (and no, this isn't fishing for fan mail).

Most of the letters that are addressed to the editor, are just that -- letters to the editor, impersonal and sent as commentary for publication, not necessarily correspondence with the dude who happens to work at the paper.

But today, I am sharing one of my favorites. One of the reasons it is my favorite is for something you can't see: Included in the handwritten note was a tea bag, with the encouragement to take a moment to relax.

Of all the things I've had come through the mail, that was a first.

And it was that simple gesture from Roxie Halsey that stopped me, made me smile and share the note with a few other ink-stained souls who toil here.

It was a testament to the power of words, a lesson not missed by someone who works in the medium every day. Receiving this one letter and a few kind words meant a great deal.

Sometimes, the simple acts of kindness are indeed powerful and profound.

So Halsey's letter hasn't yet made its way to the "Love Letters" file. I have kept it, and read it occasionally, smiling. It'll probably find its way there eventually.

For right now, it's a good reminder that sometimes a simple word of praise has an awful lot of power.

Copyright 2015 Casper Star-Tribune Online. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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