Thursday, June 14, 2007


I had a wonderful day with my mother yesterday as we sorted through a couple of the many boxes of photos, letters, and newspaper clippings that my grandmother had accumulated in nearly ninety years on earth. Not only did she have letters that she had received, but also some that my great-grandparents had sent to each other when they were courting during 1907-09.

One of the treats was a stack of postcards from the early part of the 20th century that were mostly the communications of my great-grandmother's siblings to her. They lived in Fort Wayne and another town to the north, while my great-grandparents had remained in Magley, a little town about forty miles south of Fort Wayne. These were the written equivalent of a phone call, making plans for a visit the next Sunday, or sharing little bits of news.

The other letters that had us crying from laughing so hard were a number of letters written by my mother and grandfather to my grandmother--and her missiles in return--while she and my youngest aunt were on a trip to California in 1962 to visit my older aunt who was a Navy wife living in Oakland while her husband was at sea. She was gone for three weeks, and because long distance phone calls were still prohibitively expensive, all of the news and thoughts that they had during that time were written down.

What a treasure! This is the best insight I've ever had into my mom as a teen, before she was almost killed in an accident or was worn down by years of a dishonest and irresponsible husband. We laughed and laughed.
Her descriptions of the actions of my grandfather brought back so many happy memories.

We also found a bunch of letters that my little brother wrote to my grandparents when he was a kid. They were adorable!

Last night on the way home I started thinking about those letters, and the treasured letters that I have: letters from Colin when I was away at school; letters from my grandmothers, full of news about their gardens and what they're doing; postcards from my mom when I was in college; letters from Bethany at camp. These are all little insights into these people and I'm glad that I have them.

This has also made me determined to write more letters and encourage my children to do the same. It takes more thought to put news into words than it does to make a phone call. Email is impersonal and transitory.
Part of the magic of those old letters is seeing the handwriting, unique to each individual.

And think about the recipient. Getting the mail has become a chore. It's usually bills and a mountain of junk. Or some days it's just junk. Think of the little jolt of happiness that comes from seeing your name handwritten on an envelope that is obviously personal. If you write letters you might even get some back!

And of course the genealogist in me is screaming, "Write letters! Leave something of yourself for your great-great grandchildren to find."


Favorite Apron said...

I have some cards and letters that my grandmothers wrote to me. Their handwriting is such a tangible part of them - the only thing I really have left of them to physically hold on to.
I ( being a historian at heart) have saved all the letters I've ever received since high school. It will make boring reading for somebody, someday!

Kim said...

xyI constantly regret my lack of letter writting. A friend of ours collects pens and has gifted us with a beautiful one to encourage us to write more letters. I admit I still haven't written more than one in the last few years. I force our dc to write letters to family and friends on a regular basis in the hopes that they won't turn out like me :)

Cheryl said...

Jane, I recently looked through some of my Dad's old things and came across a handwritten letter from a fellow soldier sent to him after my Dad had been discharged (WWII) but his friend was still serving. It was amazing to sit there and realize that letter was over 60 years old! I used to do a lot more letter writing--my children don't do much at all except for thank you notes--I love the immediacy and ease of email (and blogging!) but you're right that we've lost some of the art of writing letters, and that's a shame.

Marie N. said...

Great idea! I have a few letters that I treasure as well, and some that were found among my grandparents' things that belonged to my great grandfather. He hung wallpaper and painted. The letters from him are work-related.

Barbara Frank said...

Magley, hmm..I'll have to look that up on a map. The Franks are from Portland (south of Fort Wayne); we get down there once in a while to visit.