It used to be called correspondence, also known as writing letters.
There was a time, long, long ago, the Olden Days really, when people communicated by writing letters.
No computers, no smart phones and calling long distance on the telephone was prohibitive. I can't tell you how many times I would call my parents and after only a few minutes, my mother would say," Well, I don't want to run up your phone bill. Thanks for calling." Click.
When my mother died (my Dad preceded her by eight years), my sister and I cleared out her house, a sorry task to say the least. Since we both lived far away, we didn't have the time to go through each and every keepsake, so my sister filled a box with letters and pictures my mother had saved, planning to go through it all later.
Well, later turned out to be 14 years later, but she did it and recently sent me the letters and pictures I had sent to my mother and father over the years and that my mother had saved. And my mother saved everything.
As I went through all of the cards, letters, and pictures that I sent my parents and that my mother saved, memories came flooding back - memories of them and memories of who I was then. And there was comfort there. I was comforted by the fact that I was good to my parents and communicated often despite the miles. I was comforted to know that despite the hardships of my early married years, I was able to enjoy my children. I was comforted to be reminded that my parents had always been there for me.
I moved far from home right after college and did not return often. My letters to my parents reflect my regret at being so far away from them.
While away, I raised a family, their grandchildren, and my parents spent many holidays alone. But we wrote and called often.
It's comforting to see these items now and to know that I tried to share my life and their grandchildren's lives with them, even though we were thousands of miles apart.
Will our children have such mementos to tie them to the past and to us?
Because I think this is so important for the next generation, I have come up with a plan to bring back the Art of Correspondence.
But first, if you will indulge me, I would like to share some of the pictures and sentiments I had sent my parents and that I am lingering over these many years later, thinking of them, reading the letters and enjoying the pictures, so happy these have remained. And in so doing, perhaps inspire you to join me in my letter writing campaign.
"I'm so crazy about Alex. He can make or break my day depending on whether he smiles at me or not. He's such a good boy too...He's also creeping around everywhere. He doesn't exactly crawl yet, rather, he pulls himself along with his arms, dragging his legs. I liken him to a dying man in the desert pulling himself to the last water hole...that baby really loves to ramble."
"Happy Birthday, Mom!
We're enjoying the children immensely. Ashley can't walk quite yet, but will probably be close to Alex in that he walked right on his first birthday...She makes lots of ma-ma-ma-ma sounds and dadoo-dadoo-dadoo, so she'll probably be very verbal, too, like Alex...Alex is doing really well in school. His teacher says he is the consummate worrier...She doesn't say it in a derogatory way. She says it's just that he is so far ahead of the others mentally that he can see the ramifications of every problem right away and does a lot of "What if..." She says he also never lets her forget to feed the fish or anything else for that matter, but she says he is always nice about it..."
"...Ashley is so adorable. Tonight I was saying, "Night, night" and I kissed her hand. She looked up at me, took mine and kissed my hand right back. I wish you both could see her. She is so loving and adorable and cuddly. I have the most wonderful children in the world!"
Four years later I wrote:
"Happy Anniversary...Ashley is already a star at her new daycare. She was off last Friday and when I took her on Monday one of the teachers said that they had really missed her. Several little children had come to the teacher asking "Where my Ashley" was...[and] Alex... is worrying about everything under the sun."
My letters home all seem to be apologizing for not writing more and complaining about having to work so much.
"I'm really sorry I've been so remiss about writing...We've been working so much...and not doing much of excitement (sic), that I've found it difficult to write as I haven't had much to say. But I really do think of you every day and mean to write more often. With working, having two small children and trying to keep up a large house, my head is spinning most of the time!"
In addition to trying to keep my parents up to date with our lives, I am also glad I said the things I wanted to say to them when they were alive and that I wrote it down.
"A letter to my Mother on Mother's Day, 1986"
Mom, you have given me so much. Because you are my Mother I am a better person. Because of you I have
---the desire to be a mother (if it hadn't been for your good mothering, I might never have had my beautiful children).
---the ability to love my children unconditionally and to be forever concerned about their happiness and sorrow
---the desire and ability to do my best, to be the best person I can be, not to just get by but to do it right...
and I go on adding many more positives including "my gift of gab" and "good health and stamina" due to my Swedish heritage!
My mother saved that list so I can remember it now.
And I saved her letter where she responded:
"Thank you for the nice Mother's Day card and the "eulogy." Nice to hear those things while I am still here."
My mother was 78 when I sent her that. She lived to be 91.
I did the same sort of thing for my Dad earlier in my life.
(My Mother and I had a rocky time during the teen years and I didn't really appreciate her until I had children of my own).
1. My Dad can whip up exotic snacks on three minutes notice
2. My Dad makes dreams come true:
a. like canopy beds
b. princess phones
c. fox muffs
d. little furry poodles...
e. sleek white sports cars
(ed. note: What can I say, I was spoiled rotten)
3. My Dad knows just what to say when I am sad or happy
4. My Dad is encouraging in my moments of uncertainty
I go on for several more and end with "And because of all these things, I certainly am proud that you are MY Dad. All my love on Father's Day..."
I wasn't kidding about the fox muff!
If I hadn't written those letters, put them in envelopes with pictures and mailed them, I wouldn't have these memories now, memories that have since slipped from my consciousness.
And because my mother saved those letters, I know they were meaningful to my Dad and her. And now they exist for the next generation.
You might say that once you write an email or put something on the Internet, it's always there.
That may be true, but you don't find old emails, old texts or old tweets. You can't hold them in your hands and see your handwriting, know that your mother and/or father also held those letters and turned over those pictures to see what you wrote on the back.
My Dad always wrote long handwritten letters with some news, but mostly philosophical letters that blended his religion with his view of the world and laced with his sense of humor.
Here is an example:
Wherever Ashley goes she leaves a TALE behind her! Yeah!
When she was here we took her to ...Sunday School...When the class began [the teacher] said "This is Ashley...from California..." Ashley wasn't satisfied with that. She said to [the teacher] "I don't know these girls, will you please introduce me?" Each one was introduced...[Finally the teacher] said, "Ashley this is Martha." Martha didn't reply..."Aren't you going to say hello to Ashley?" Martha answered, "No! I'm not allowed to talk to strangers!"
He loved stuff like that.
Ashley was five and she was staying with my parents while we went to Europe and this story was told in church to the congregation! I wasn't there but was able to enjoy the story then and now and share it with my kids because my Dad wrote it down.
After his opening story, my Dad's letter went on to say, "We're glad you called. Don't be discouraged by circumstances!" and he outlined the pioneering women in his family who had endured the wilderness to settle a Michigan County ending with "We are mightily proud of all of your accomplishments - AND LOVE YOU! - even though it is difficult to always express it, except with care, concern, comfort (clothes?) closeness and calmness - and being ready to help in any way we can."
Not sure what was going on with me then, other than the stress of working full-time, too much to do and not enough money like most people in their 30's, but my Dad was always quick to try to make things better. (I hope I wasn't asking for money!) and it's comforting to read those words now as I work on my new life in retirement. I am glad I have those letters.
My mother's letters were mostly newsy and often included every single thing she ate at a potluck or dinner. She was very detail oriented. Must be where I got that from. Advice or admonitions were also thrown in. She couldn't help herself. But her letters always ended with "We love you"
I always thought my mother had the most beautiful handwriting. And the schools no longer teach cursive?
So because I want the next generation to have these kinds of memories to savor and because it's not too late to say the things you really want to say to your loved ones,
I want to bring back the Art of Correspondence.
And here is my plan:
- This holiday season, forego what I call "the bragging letter."
receiving that one or two page typed letter listing all of your families'
accomplishments over the last year and/or your trials and tribulations.
Yes, I am interested in you and your life, but I'm not interested in your
Aunt Hattie's broken leg, little Mary's piano lessons or details on your dog's
antics. What I am interested in is YOU - what you are feeling and what our
relationship means to you.
So this holiday season, instead of sending out an impersonal typed letter
which takes you time to write, print out and stuff into the holiday card,
why not take that time to write one or two personal lines in that
card, telling the recipient what that person has meant to your life?
If you are against the commercialism of Christmas, what better way to
combat it than to tell people you care about what they have meant to you?
- If you give or send someone a birthday card, Mother's Day card, etc., don't just rely on the sentiment in the card and sign your name, write something heartfelt in it.
- Instead of emailing your grandchildren, send them postcards with a short note about the card, perhaps inspiring them to learn something new.
town and then ask your grandchild to have Mommy or Daddy show them
where the place is on a map. Naturally email and Skype helps us stay in
touch with our loved ones and we should keep doing that on a regular
basis, but also sending them something tangible to keep will be special the
moment it is received and later in life, when it is rediscovered.
- Do a letter-writing "craft" with your children or grandchildren.
making it fun. "Let's write Granny a letter and send her a picture you
have drawn." That will be a novelty to children who only know IPads, Smart
Phones and computers.
- Write, and I mean write, not email, a thank you note.
it has meaning to receive one in the mail, that you know someone made
the effort to purchase the note and hand write it. Instill this in your
children. I know it's nagging but sometimes you have to nag. Both of my
children sent thank you's and even though they may not be doing it now, I
know they have guilt about it! And I know they had meaning, because my
mother kept every one of them.
- Surprise someone with a heartfelt letter.
to say, I care, I love you, I know you are hurting, I am there. Give that
person something to hold and read and reread forever.
- Write a letter to yourself.
away to read later. You will be astonished at the place you were at then.
- Write a letter to your loved ones to be read after you are gone.
us knows when the grim reaper will appear. If you can't say it in person,
don't leave them wondering. Say everything you didn't say or should have
said when you were alive. Write it all down, put it somewhere where it will
be found and give them the comfort they will need. It's better late than
So that's my plan. I know we all have very busy lives but it only takes a small amount of time to make a big difference in someone's life and to create lasting memories.
Now don't you have a letter to write?
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See you Friday for some great ideas for the weekend and my reviews of the week and next Tuesday when I will strike a lighter note with my column
"Rock & Roll will Never Die!"