Lady Bountiful would be a flattering role to play in life, but, unable to dole out largess in any sizable amounts, I've been doing my bit for the next generation's environment by readdressing used envelopes instead of buying new ones, thereby saving a l ittle timber. You know, of course, that they're made from paper -- I don't mean that. I mean paper's made from the tree. What? Didn't you know that saving one redwood alone is garnering millions -- thousands -- well, quite a few seedlings which, placed end to end would have everybody moving out of Hollywood. They'd soon be up to their knees in trees instead of poinsettias. Just think of one California redwood, one that until they cut a hole in it you couldn't drive a car through but now you can. At least, you could until the present-day Goths and Vandals became squatters in the sequoias. (I've just checked with the American Embassy here in Grosvenor Square. The Librarian's the one who told me about the complete destruction of that very interesting "gateway" of which both of us have seen photographs.)
It takes a redwood a few thousand years to amount to anything. Once above the other trees it draws a deep breath, shoots out branches and starts to grow. Two hundred feet is a sapling. They must be saved. No doubt about that.
So, very bright-eyed one Monday morning, I sent off to the Save-the-Trees people for some of their labels, which make clear why you're using an old envelope for your answer. This isn't easy to do; you mustn't play any favorites. However precious the billet-douxm received or however important the business letter, I must answer it by returning the writer's own envelope readdressed by means of the new label with the picture of a large healthy oak.
After much preparation I could hardly wait for the envelope of my first client. And then it came: an invitation to the White House. The one in the United States. Washington, D.C. "The President and Mrs. Carter request the pleasure . . . etc." The invitation was easily explained. There was a big do for the Motion Picture Industry, for it was the anniversary of sound on film. I had been in many of Hollywood's first sound films. Lots of other people were invited, too.
I didn't know whether I was on my forehead or my feet. How would you answer such an invitation? By means of a wise-cracking lapel button? Or a readdressed label stuck to this embossed stationery asking the President not to make any more envelopes from the giant sequoias at home?
I began losing my nerve. You can't tell the President of the United States how not to spend his spare time. Not unless it's gift-edged and engraved. Another doubt perched on my typewriter: Will people think we can't afford envelopes? Wide, rich, resourceful, immaculate America -- will it understand sock-pulling-up, self-rationing, hair-shirted conservationists in little England? The spendthrift in me won out. i sent a proper envelope to the White House -- when I could find one.
But of all the people to whom I might have sent a secondhand enveloped to remind him to please save our trees I think dear Jimmy Carter would understand the most.
That's the way it looks from over here in London.