Christmas of my junior year in college, I received a gift from my parents, a phone for my dorm room. Prior to that, any calls I got were on the pay phone down the hall. This was years before we had a home computer. Cell phone? What’s that? With a phone, I could connect with friends and family and hear their voices-as long as I didn’t call during the day. Long distance calls were billed by the minute and the rates were cheaper nights and weekends. Writing a letter costs only a stamp.
So, I often spent the free time I had, when not studying, writing letters. I enjoyed it. It wasn’t uncommon for me to write several notebook pages to one person. It closed the spaces between us, brought us together, gave us a connection. And, an added bonus was that I often received answers to my correspondence. A highlight of my week was to go to my mailbox and see envelopes waiting for me.
Everything about a handwritten letter was, and is, special to me. The texture of the paper, the color of the ink, the individual style of the writer, the word choice, every single thing about someone taking the time to sit down and write to me thrilled my soul. Sometimes, the letters I got contained scribbled pictures, the shaky handwriting of one of my grandmothers, cartoons cut from magazines, recipes, or photographs. A letter wasn’t just a note, it was an experience.
Social media is wonderful for keeping in touch. It’s fast and up to the minute. There are special effects, amazing photographs, and lots of creative extras but there’s something about the feel of a letter in my hand that touches a different place in me. Writing to someone on paper communicates on a different level. And writing a letter costs only a stamp.
I have a tiny cedar chest that belonged to my mom. She got it when she graduated high school and I inherited it. It’s the size of a jewelry box and I have filled it with some of the special letters I’ve received over the years. Inside there are letters I got in college from my mom, my dad, my brother, my grandmothers, and my best friend-including one that says, “Forget the friends, marry him!” that she sent me when I told her I thought Kent was the one. The box also contains letters I found saved among my mom’s things that she’d received from us and our children when the kids were small. I go through it now and then and re-read them, each one a snapshot of an earlier time, each one special.
Our oldest teaches her English students to write letters. I’m so glad she and other teachers I know still do this. Letter writing is fast becoming a lost art, and I believe this is a loss for all of us.
Writing by hand is different from texting or composing on a computer and I often write first drafts with pen and paper. It gets my creativity flowing and sometimes what shows up on the page surprises me. Letter writing is similar. I tend to take my time and think through what I’m saying when I’m writing it by hand on paper. I want to get it just right.
My mom belonged to the Research Club in her community. When I was in junior high school, they undertook a project to move a log cabin from its original site in the area to the town park and restore it as a museum. Just after it was relocated, a classmate of mine, unbeknownst to the Research Club, was climbing up the wall inside the cabin by holding onto strips of wood that had been placed over the mud chinking between the logs. One of the strips gave way and a small hollow, filled with letters from a long ago resident’s romance, was exposed. My classmate got into trouble for his escapade, but the letters became a special part of the house’s history. They had meaning, they were a connection to the past, they were a tangible piece of a generation long gone.
In the midst of this pandemic, much of our older generation and our at-risk members of the community are isolated in their homes, in nursing homes, and in care facilities. They are unable to receive visitors, even family members, for fear of contracting this life-threatening virus. They are unable to hug, touch, or sit down in person and have a long talk with those special to them.
How special would it be if we began to write letters again? What a great way to close the spaces between us, to bring us together, to connect us. What if we sat down and wrote someone, simply sat down and shared snippets of our day, taught our children and grandchildren to compose handwritten notes, maybe include a scribbled picture, recipe, or photograph? And writing a letter costs only a stamp and a little time.
We just might brighten someone’s day. We might learn something new about ourselves and someone else, see inside each other’s world in a different way, or gain a new perspective. And, we might even receive answers to our letters, get something besides advertisements and bills in our mailbox- an unexpected pick-me-up on a hard day.
“Letter writing can be seen as a gift because someone has taken his/her time to write and think and express love.” Soraya Diase Coffelt
A grandparent, a neighbor, a caregiver, a crossing guard, a teacher, a store or restaurant worker-the possibilities are endless for someone who’d enjoy a note of encouragement or thanks.
Written a letter lately? What if? Just a thought.
Be safe. Be well. Be blessed.
“The Letter” recorded by The Box Tops in 1967, Songwriter Wayne Carson Thompson, Copyright Lovolar Music, Budde Songs Inc.