I love letters. I love the penmanship and I love reading them and hearing the words in the voice of the person that wrote them. The few letters I have from my mother are magical to me. I read them and hear the tenor and inflections of her voice. I sometimes think I have forgotten how she sounded, but reading her words opens a synapse in my brain that allows it to all come flooding back.
Old Letters Are The Best
I recently came into some papers that belonged to my Aunt. I am not sure she ever threw anything away and while some could criticize her for that, I would never. Amongst these papers were notebooks of handwritten letters from my Grandmother to my Aunt.
My Grandmother was the family news conductor and her letters were always full of family news. She always filled you in on who got married, who was sick, what crops were planted and how many jars of jelly or green beans were ‘put away’.
In addition to letters from my Grandmother, were letters from my Uncles to their sister written during the war. I took the time to read the letters and decided they should go to my cousins so they could have a glimpse of their father’s life before they were born. I felt so good about mailing those letters and know how much they will mean to them.
I also cherish the penmanship and the flourish of words from a different time. As a child I was obsessed with the way a lower case ‘r’ was written — they looked much like an ‘n’. I loved it so much I started to use my newfound love of the letter ‘r’ in my school work much to my teacher’s chagrin.
Why Don’t We Write Letters?
I belong to a ‘snail mail’ group and have belonged to similar groups in the past. The current group started with a bang then drifted off to a small trickle of mail. This kind of mail is fun, but it is not like the old time letters from home.
Letters were once the only way to share news and updates with family and friends once people started drifting away from a central home place or when they went off to join the military. They waited weeks or months for news from loved ones when there was no other way to stay in touch.
I was fortunate enough to get a copy of a letter from my 3X Great Grandmother. It was such a great slice of history from the time. To hear about the hardships they endured and the sadness and loneliness that set in when children started moving away from home was heart wrenching. It told the news of children born and children who had passed away. It is one of my greatest treasures.
I am contemplating scanning all the letters from my Grandmother to my Aunt and then donating the original letters to a historical museum. There is so much history there that generations to come would love to read about. But parting with them, well, that’s a hard decision.
Email Vs. Letters
There is something rather impersonal about an Email. There is no way to add enough underlines to the phrase ‘I love you’. You don’t see the words on the screen and recognize the font and know who it is from like you do handwriting.
A Lost Art
Maybe I’m just overly nostalgic, but I care about the loss of this art. It is sad to me that so many schools do not teach cursive any longer. It is becoming a lost art. I will never forget when I was teaching and wrote in cursive on the blackboard. I was shocked when my students could not read what I had written.
My Grandfather could not write anything but his name. I remember watching him practice writing his signature over and over on the backs of envelopes. When I started my genealogical research I found his ‘Old Man’s Draft Card’. My heart skipped a beat. There it was — my Grandfather’s well-practiced signature. I was overcome.
Those seven letters in that familiar script meant everything to me.
“The act of writing itself is like an act of love. There is contact. There is exchange too. We no longer know whether the words come out of the ink onto the page, or whether they emerge from the page itself where they were sleeping,
the ink merely giving them colour.”