What’s In the PaperGirl Mailbag? Joy and Shame

posted in: PaperGirl Mailbag | 6
Philip Larkin, by Mark Hill, 2017.


I went to the PaperGirl mailbox today.

I had not been to the PaperGirl mailbox since … Well, for a few months. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but there’s a lot going on around here. It’s like Grand Central Station. It’s like a busy restaurant at Grand Central Station. It’s like the kitchen of a busy restaurant in Grand Central Station. Let’s keep that metaphor going.

Sometimes, things that are not filed as “On Fire” get put on the “Back Burner.” I put the checking of the PaperGirl mailbox on the “Back Burner.”

What’s interesting about putting things that are not “On Fire” on the “Back Burner” is that the burner is on, Mary Fons, and sooner or later, what was on the “Back Burner” skips the state of being “On Fire” and goes directly to “Engulfed In Flames.”

The post office called me last week to tell me that I needed to come get the mail out of my mailbox. They didn’t say what they would do to my mailbox (or me) if I didn’t, but if you’ve ever been to a post office in the city of Chicago, you know it is unwise to make those people mad. They’re already mad. All the time. Even when no one has done anything bad. In any event, just do what they tell you to do and get out as quickly as possible. So I went up to the Merchandise Mart with my key today and I got the mail.

You guys. You guys.

The mail. The mail!

Oh, my. Beckie; Ann; Mr. Stofer; Ms. Hoof; Susan; Annabelle; Ms. Masal; Ms. Fix; The Gain Family … and others that sent gifts and notes and cards … I need to read all the rest of the letters and there’s nothing more I want to do tonight than do that.

A special shout-out to two people who made me yelp and then burble up with tears of joy/longing/gratitude: Leah and Mark.

Mark created the drawing of Philip Larkin. Mark, you are my friend and I value you so dearly. And you and Netta sent fudge again this Christmas. We’ll talk soon.

As for Leah — and I do not pick favorite readers, gifts, or letters, I love them/you all — Leah sent me a little tab dispenser than dispenses sticky tabs with puppies on the tabs. They are … I am literally tearing up when I look at these tabs. Every puppy looks like my dream puppy. I love these tabs and three of them are already stuck on my life, viz. my laptop, bookshelf, etc.

Thank you all for these wonderful envelopes. They are full of stories; they contain your very heart and soul. I will read everything. I love you all very much and you can print that. You can tack that up behind your eyes, knowing that it’s true. I’ve loved people for less than this, this bounty of letters from people out there who read, and write, and connect, and long to connect. Me, too.

Here: Mary Fons / Papergirl, PO Box 3957, Chicago, IL 60654-8777

I vow to you this day (!) to check the box every month. Every single month. Send me your letters, send me your thoughts. And you can send gifts, too, because I know about gifts. Gifts are my love language, and that means I feel love when I get gifts, absolutely, but I also show love when I give gifts. And I give a lot of gifts because I love a lot! (This blog is arguably one big, extended gift of like, life.) Anyway, if you’re a Gift love language person like me, you want to send me gifts because that’s how you show love.* Follow that impulse!

Whatever you do, and no matter if you send anything to me or not, keep writing. Keep connecting. I will if you will.

*Ms. Masal, I’m looking at you. 

Mom, Thank Goodness. (Essay Contest Update.)

posted in: PaperGirl Mailbag | 10
Mom, you, and the mailbag at the Merchandise Mart. Photo: Me.
Mom, you, and a few of the letters from the mailbag while at the Merchandise Mart today. Photo: Me.


This paragraph has been written and rewritten so many times, at this point, it’s just a line.

Because I’m speechless.

Today I picked up the PaperGirl mail. It was time to collect any stragglers for the PaperGirl Leaders & Enders Essay Contest and read all the entries.

Sixty of you entered the contest, which is to say sixty people took the time and energy to write their lives down on paper and then, as if that weren’t enough,* those people took the time and energy to stick that paper in a stamped envelope and send it across the country (or around the world in a number of cases!!) to someone who really, really wants to know. The life, love, sorrow, joy, and electricity in these letters has overwhelmed me in the best possible way.

And not just me, it turns out.

I didn’t plan to have a buddy in the review process, but it just so happens that my mom is in town today. Because I’m on a hiatus from TV, Mom and I haven’t has as much time together as we usually do, and we miss each other. When Mom learned I’d be in town at the big quilt show this weekend, signing books and giving tours (as opposed to being out of town teaching or in production for the school paper) she suggested she come in for a night to see me and go to the show with me. I yipped with happiness, and so it was that the one and only Marianne Fons arrived a little after noon today.

I was so happy to see the woman I nearly forgot I had my tax appointment this afternoon. When I remembered, I wailed. To have to go do taxes instead of hang out with Mom?? The fretting about that turned into fretting about all the other things that I want and can’t have, including a second me, a personal chef, and enough time in the day today to go pick up the PaperGIrl mail at the Merchandise Mart before the post office closed.

How quickly I had forgotten that the mighty Marianne Fons was in the room.

“Well, now, let’s see,” Mom said, looking at her watch. “I know where the Merchandise Mart is. It’s a quick train ride away, isn’t it?”

“Yes.” I raised an eyebrow.

“Well, you go to your tax appointment — it’s important and won’t take too long — and I’ll go to the Merchandise Mart and get the mail. Just come to me when you’re done. There are good places to sit and work there and I have plenty I can do while I wait for you. It’s perfect!”

Pretty much, yeah. That’s Mom for you.

When I got to the Mart —I’ll tell you about the tax appointment another time — Mom showed me the huge bag of mail and I just couldn’t believe it. A big canvas totebag full of mail is truly my bliss. I dove right in and of course every letter I opened I had to tell Mom about. She was editing a friend’s manuscript and trying to concentrate but it only took a couple letters before we were both marveling and laughing and getting weepy and I said, “Mom, you’re in this thing, now. Get to reading.”

Sharing the stories with Mom made the whole thing sweeter. We both read everything. I hope you don’t mind the slight change in judging; the final decision is mine and I think it made the whole thing more fair, having a second pair of eyes. I’ve decided there is a winner and two runners up. That announcement and more on the essays — much more — to come.

You people. You people are extraordinary. And I think of everyone who didn’t enter!

*it’s enough

From The PaperGirl Mailbag (And the PaperGirl Retreat?)

Mail from The Netherlands. How cool is that?? Letter: Marloes, Scan: Me.
Mail from Marloes from the Netherlands! How cool is that?? Letter: Marloes, Scan: Me.


Yesterday, I went to the mighty Merchandise Mart to pick up the PaperGirl mail.

I walked the whole way from school to the Mart and I was glad I did. The day was fine, the Chicago River looked pretty good, and there was a man on the Wells Street bridge smoking a cigar when I passed. (I must admit: I like the smell of a man’s cigar when I’m in a city, crossing a bridge, going to pick up the mail.) And when I got inside the Mart, I felt happy. After all, I have a key to a mailbox that will never contain a gas bill or a credit card statement, only glorious mail from people who like this blog. People like Annabelle, Richard, Katherine, Leah, Ellen, Lorel, Marloes, Deborah, and Liz.

Where do I begin?

Remember a little while back when someone suggested there be a PaperGirl retreat? Or was that me who thought it up? I can’t remember, but let me tell you: That idea keeps rolling around in my brain and I like it rolling around. When I opened the fabulous letters in this last batch, the idea of a P.G. retreat rolled up to me again for a totally selfless reason: You people should meet each other. You really should. The letters I have here in a box at the foot of my desk are written by such interesting, funny, neat people. You’re like, pre-BFFs. Trust me.

I keep fantasizing about what a PaperGirl retreat would be. It would be a quilting/writing retreat. I’d teach patchwork and writing. You could write about your quilts. You could put words on your quilts. You could just write about your life and then, when that got really hard, you could just go sew. That’s like my entire life. And along with workshop instruction and learning and fun, we’d go to the Art Institute and look at art and have some fabulous dinners downtown. We would drink really good coffee at breakfast and we’d go see a show or something at night. But the night wouldn’t go too late because I turn into a pumpkin.

Wouldn’t that be kind of great? I really love the idea of doing a workshop weekend that blends quilting and writing. Look, you heard it here first: If there’s interest, I can schedule a phone call with the one and only Carmen and we could at least think through logistics. How hard could it be? I’ve been teaching patchwork and writing long enough. I’ve been living in Chicago long enough. Hey, Rita and Lily had fun with me — my first testimonials, perhaps!

Anywhoo, it wouldn’t be a PaperGirl Mailbag post without sharing some mail, so let’s have it. Tonight, not a lace swatch or Italian linen (I haven’t forgotten about that!) but a poem, written by the irresistible, one-and-only Leah. It might seem boastful to post this poem for everyone to see, but I can’t resist the opportunity to share its charms, Leah. Rhyming “Wonder Woman-y” and using the word “gravel”? Seriously? Leah, you leave me no choice.  Ahem:

In Chicago’s a sewist named Fons,
With talent to rival magic wands:
She enjoys frequent travel
O’er land, sea, and gravel
She just went to see Claus (not Hans.)

Her interests are varied and many,
Her life’s more busy than any; 
Creating and planning,
Studying and cramming,
She’s a little bit Wonder Woman-y.

From Chicago, New York, or D.C.,
She writes for all others to see;
Her adventures in life
All the joy, all the strife,
On her excellent blog, th’ ‘Ol P.G.’

Reading it’s always a pleasure,
A favorite use of my leisure;
It brightens my days
In so many ways
It’s fun, insightful — a treasure!

That came in the mail! Can you believe it? Amazing.

One last thing: Of course I love to get poems (and hats and chocolate from Seattle and drawings) but I must tell you that this mailbox thing is really for you, too. It’s good to write a letter to someone. It feels good. Don’t worry about writing it “well.” Don’t worry about the perfect card. Just write to me. You might discover something.

PaperGirl Mailbag: Marshall Field’s Lace.

posted in: PaperGirl Mailbag | 6
Sherry's lace, via my scanner.
Sherry’s lace, via my scanner.


Not all the ideas I have are good. I’m not always cool, not always winning. There was the time I took a shower in New Orleans and didn’t put on new jeans and my underpants fell out of my pants in front of everyone. And when I wiped out at the pizza place in the Portland airport and flinged* wine all over the whole world, that was lame. But sometimes… Sometimes I hit gold.

The PaperGirl mailbox. Now there was a great idea.

You people just need to get out of town, okay? Just get out. Get right on out of town with yourselves. I have with me now a stack of the most incredible, awesome, fabulous letters you have ever seen in your life. Phyllis, Mark, Dottie, Joan, Karen (Kater!!), Catherine, Annabelle, L—, and Lindsey (we’ll get to you in the next PaperGirl Mailbag post, missy) you all just have to get out of town with these letters! I waited till I had a moment’s peace and then I sat back in the good recliner that I only use for very special occasions and read each letter with great relish. I had a glass of prosecco while I did it and I even used a letter opener so as not to ruin anything, anything. For the record, there may be no gesture in the world that communicates “I am a grown-up” more fully than opening a letter with a letter opener. Well, opening a letter with a letter opener and then taking a sip of prosecco. I hardly recognized myself!

All the letters are extraordinary. Tonight, I must highlight the one that came from Sherry, in Indiana. When I opened the letter, there was a piece of beautiful lace inside. Here’s what the letter said.

Hey, Mary!

P.O. box at the Merchandise Mart? I love Chicago, too, and all the connections with Marshall Field, architecture, noise, energy, stuff.

Here is my Box Warming gift for you: lace cut from a 4-yard length obtained for Ethel Field’s wedding dress in 1891. (Marshall’s daughter.) The newspaper account says her dress was tulle, but what do they know??

Daisy Cornick, and old family friend of my parents and one-time floorwalker in the fabric department of Marshall Field’s State Street store fetched it when she worked there as a young woman. After my girls were born and a couple of years before she died in the early ’60s, she gave it to me along with other lace pieces — narrow trim, and shorter lengths — for their wedding dresses. Such a sweet gesture, but too gorgeous and fragile and historical to use. Aside from small pieces used for trim or embellishment, it’s been tucked in a box in my studio for cdecades, waiting for the perfect reason to whack off a piece and share!

Was any of the lace used for her dress? I don’t know. But the story is true. And fun.

Thanks for the PaperGirl blog!

Sherry B.

And then there was a little p.s., hand-written, about how Sherry has met my mom and how we have acquaintances in common because of the International Quilt Study Center & Museum.

Sherry, thank you. I’m going to take this to my Micro/Macro fibers class next week! Or at least I’ll keep it with the other incredible textile bits I have been getting (along with their stories) from readers like you. I mentioned the idea of a PaperGirl Retreat someday (and I’m really letting my mind wander on that, by the way); but maybe there will be a PaperGirl Museum before long.

I’m saving all the letters and everyone who writes will get a hand-written note back. That’s a promise. I love hand-written correspondence!

*Nope. Not a real word, unless you’re me, in the Portland airport several months ago, turfing out with wine.