The Handwritten Letter

Earlier this week, Sam Falco blogged about exchanging letters when he was younger in his post, Letters, and it struck a cord with me. I've been thinking about it ever since because I remember having a whole network of friends and family that I exchanged letters with for years just like Sam did.

Over time, those letters dwindled to almost zero. I occasionally have the urge to start writing letters again. I'll buy some nice stationery. I'll write a few letters. I'll put the stationery in a drawer and forget about it. Eventually, I'll feel the desire to write another letter. More often than not, I'll buy more stationery, but sometimes, like today, I'll open the drawer and use a sheet of the stationery I'd forgotten all about.

Today, as I wrote a short letter to Sam, I thought about how much I enjoy the feel of the pen across the paper, the words taking form into sentences to express an emotion, share a thought, or remember a shared experience. I thought about how much more tangible and even more permanent a handwritten letter feels than an email as well as how many ways we have to communicate all the things that matter in life.

The words spilled out on the paper more easily than I expected. They weren't erudite or impressive, but they were genuine and friendly. And, that can be more important than anything else in a world where we spend so much time cultivating images.

As Sam talked about receiving letters in college, I was transported back to the letters I used to receive in college.

Granny Cooper wrote me almost every week. Her letters always started "Dearest Granddaughter" and were always filled with encouragement, bits of family news, and occasionally a dollar or two. The words of encouragement helped me keep going and the money made me feel supported, especially because I knew she was on a fixed income.

Mom also wrote to me with news from the farm and about the family even though most weeks I spoke with my parents and sister on the phone.

Aunt Penny wrote to me every week or two with news about her and our family. She shared little details that helped me feel connected to the  family.

My friend, Sherry, wrote me most weeks sharing her experiences at a different college. We often made plans via letters for when we'd both be back in the same area. Telephone calls were too expensive for us in those days.

A guy from high school, Allen, wrote to me a few times. Those letters made me smile even though we had no longer had any other contact. Yet, sadly, I don't remember noticing when the communication stopped.

After college, I exchanged letters with several friends, including Lori, Kelly, and Sandy, for years. As the years went by the letters began to grow more and more intermittent until finally they dwindled to holiday and birthday cards and then to nothing at all.

I even met my in-laws for the first time through the letters we shared for years until I finally met them in person. Those letters helped me form bonds with people who lived in a different country that formed around our shared love of the man I married. As we got to know one another, we found we had more in common than we expected.

Yet, like Sam, I remember fondly sitting for a few hours each week writing letters answering letters from family and friends. I would re-read each of their letters in turn before I answered it and I would keep it by by side as I wrote referring back to it and hitting each point in turn. Sometimes the letters were happy and light and encouraging. Even when they were sad and dark, I tried to find a way to be encouraging. I'm not sure I always succeeded. We shared our lives from afar through words that kept us connected. The words on a sheet of paper chronicled the lives and archived our connections.

I'm feeling inspired to write a few more letters now, particularly to some family members who I can't communicate with electronically. Not that email and texting and IMing and Snapping are any less important ways to communicate, but they're also not quite the same.

I think I just might spend a few minutes looking through some of the letters I put in binders years ago to keep. Who knows what memories I might dig up. Maybe I'll even find something there to remind me of someone I'd like to get back in touch with...

So, thank you, Sam, for inspiring me to think about letters, remember writing letters, and write a few letters! Oh, and for inspiring me to write this!

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