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Remembering Letters

I used to have a collection of letters–handwritten on wide-ruled notebook paper–from old boyfriends, which I dutifully purged in the early years of my marriage. Now I wish I’d kept those. Not because I need the mementos or miss the men, but because these days I don’t get any handwritten letters on any paper from anyone.

I don’t send them, either. Cards? Sure. I’m not as good of a “card” person as many of my friends, but once in awhile when the calendar beeps from my computer screen and the stamps are within easy reach, I make it happen. Letters, however—not sure I’ve written one of those since the turn of the century.

I have letter-writing fantasies, especially when I’m deep in a Julia Quinn historical. I imagine myself at a little writing desk with a fine fountain pen, thick vellum paper (though, to be honest, I’m not sure what “vellum” actually is) carefully recording both my mundane thoughts and deepest philosophical yearnings for some far-away friend. I’d melt the candle wax in a blob onto the flap and press in my personal seal. My stamps would be images of venerable historical figures and I’d place them on the envelope upside-down to signify “love.”

But the draw of writing letters is the same as the problem of writing letters. To sit for 15 minutes or half an hour and write means that I HAVE 15 minutes to sit and write letters–when I should just shoot off an email and get back to recording receipts, writing a novel or folding towels.

And maybe that’s why getting a letter now feels like getting a gift. Someone gave up time for me. Someone dug into an overstuffed office drawer to find the pretty paper, licked the flap with their own tongue and trotted down to the mailbox just for me.

One thing is for sure–if I get another letter, ever again, I’m going to save it. I’m going to find a fabric ribbon (even if I have to drive to the craft store to get it) and tie a red bow around that letter and tuck it away in my underwear drawer or between the historical novels on my bookshelf.

What about you? Have you sent a letter in the last year? Have you gotten one?


24 Responses

  1. I did the same thing when I got married, Keri. And I can’t remember the last time I sent or received a handwritten letter, though my aunts tend to write a lot in their cards. I do have all the letters my dad wrote me when he was stationed in the Gulf in 1990-91, and every piece of handwritten correspondence my husband’s ever sent/given me.

    I type so much now that you wouldn’t want a whole handwritten letter from me anyway. You’d never be able to read it because my handwriting has deteriorated from lack of use. Seriously.

    I still send cards for all occasions and thank yous, and make my boys do the same thing. In an age where everything is over the computer, it’s nice to get something besides junk and bills in the mailbox every once in a while. 😉

  2. Gwen,
    I make an effort to write legibly in cards, but I’m running into the problem of my older sons not being able to read my notes! They were exposed to cursive in 2nd grade, but it isn’t an enforced part of the curriculum any more, so they have trouble reading it in middle school (and cannot write it.)

    And yes–any time I get handwritten script on my envelope, I get might excited. When I realized it’s another piece of junk mail, however, it builds some serious ill-will towards that company that tricked me!

  3. I used to LOVE to write letters. Now, I’m doing great to get Christmas cards out by February. I do, however, love to get the generic letter to family and friends from everyone each year.

    I, too, pitched all the old boyfriend letters. What the heck? And what about all of those notes my friends and I passed in middle school and even high school? Those were AWESOME. All that gossip, and important information like what I was going to have for lunch that day? Importanty historical information.

  4. I’m seriously starting to feel like the last person in the world to still be hand-writing letters. I feel… ancient.

    Oh, sure, I send my share of e-mails and texts, which makes the letter writing more difficult, but I try to save a little something back each week to share in a handwritten letter. If I’m really pressed for time (or I’ve had a week where knitting is the most interesting thing I’ve done) I might just send a short note reminding whomever I’m writing how much I miss them.

  5. I ended up being pen pals with the first boy I ever kissed. He was from Hawaii. His letters were undoubtedly poorly written, but all he had to do was mention the beach or surfing and I swooned.

    Now there’s only one man in my life who gets handwritten letters. My 92 year old great uncle. Which reminds me….it’s been a while, and I have school pictures to inflict on him.

  6. I confess to being a “tosser”…I throw away everything. HOWEVER, there is a lockbox SOMEWHERE at my parents’ house with my letters from my college boyfriend. It’s been years since I’ve read them, but I’ll tell you what is interesting…when I read them years after the fact (meaning without emotion), I see things in them I didn’t the first time around.

    Also SOMEWHERE in my parents’ house is a shoebox full of notes my girlfriends and I passed to each other during 8th grade. Now THAT is some great reading. 🙂

    My handwriting has gotten just awful over the years. Even my thank-you notes to editors, agents and contest judges were printed off my computer onto a notecard and then I’d sign them.

    Now you’ve got me wanting to find those old notes. 🙂

  7. I received a handwritten letter from an internet friend, and I wrote back. I did. I wrote five pages back to her, which are still in my notebook. I am rotten.

    I do believe I’ll rewrite a letter to her, and get it to the post office today!

  8. Hi Keri,

    You make me want to sit down and write a letter. Almost. Then reality kicks in. I have paper somewhere, but envelopes? Not sure and do you know how expensive stamps are? ; )

    It would be like a gift to get one though, so maybe I’ll make the attempt anyway.

    I haven’t gotten a letter in…sheesh, I’d agree with you and say about the turn of the century.

    That reminds me though, I’m late on my birthday thank you cards. I’d better get writing those.

    Thanks for stopping by!

  9. When I was in college, getting letters was fantastic. I sent some, too, but I’ve always hated writing longhand, even though I can’t say my writing is that bad.

    Now it’s e-mail. I love having a lot, I get excited when I have something that’s not loop mail (even if it’s work), and I get SUPER excited if it has one of my book titles in the subject line. 🙂

    I do have some old letters kept somewhere, but I can’t imagine that they’re all that meaningful or interesting, even most of the ones between me and my husband.

    Number One did an article for the school newspaper last year about the demise of love letters. She quoted a bunch of romance writers. 🙂 The conclusion was that they’re not dead, just changed.

    • Natalie,
      I think part of the problem with writing long hand is that it was used as punishment. Write, “I will not shoot spitwads at my teacher” 200 times, etc. I, for one, associated it with onerous work. Still do, unfortunately.

  10. My handwriting is horrible, even when I try…so I rarely do more than scrawl my name on cards. But in my day-job, I get to play with historical letters and always marvel at the amazing scripts I see in ordinary letters from centuries past. So beautiful! A lot of the charm is in that handwriting, and I wonder how much of our “life letters” even get saved or printed.

    Thanks for the post!!

  11. What a lovely subject! Particularly apt because my cousins and my sisters and I are all getting to the stage where we’re sorting out our parents’ left behind stuff, and of course that includes letters, which we’re trying to make sure the people most closely concerned get. So I’m getting letters my father wrote to my aunt, for example, and sending off letters that my parents received to the grown “children” of the adults who sent them — why doesn’t the English language have a word for adult offspring?

    But the trivia so lovingly recorded — so often episodes from my childhood that I’d entirely forgotten and sometimes remember with mixed chagrin and delight. But will my children have those? There are some letters recounting the early childhood of the first two, but then we moved back to America, and I lived close to my parents, and my mother-in-law spent long periods of time with us. But she wasn’t there all the time . . . I must ask my sister-in-law what she’s done with those!

    Email and the phone are great — Skype certainly has its benefits, but all of them are here and now. We’ve gained a lot, but all those letters that never get written, and can never be passed down . . .

    • In the sorting of our family’s effects, my father found a letter to Grandma from Grandpa during WW2. “You need to write a book about this,” he keeps telling me. “No – it’s YOUR inspiration. You write it,” I keep replying.

  12. I send cards with stickers and such on them to my 4-year-old niece. She loves to receive letters and cards.

    As for receiving letters, I do get thank you notes from my 10-year-old niece. Those are always nice to have especially when she puts a drawing in them.

    Somewhere in my parents’ house (or maybe my brother’s attic) are boxes with *all* the letters I have ever received, unless they tossed them out already – one never knows with one’s parents or siblings.

  13. I’ve never really thought about this. LOL The only thing I get in the mail these days besides bills may be a few Birthday cards and Christmas cards. But even those are dwindling due to email and face book. It’s kind of sad. I do have a box somewhere with letters from an old pen pal I had back in fourth grade. Have no idea where to even start looking…

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