Love Letters

Another guest post tonight, from my friend Jackie Widen:

I miss letters.  Rather, I miss sending AND receiving letters in the mail, real letters on stationery.  Our cultural communication has been reduced to tweets, posts, texts, emails and Facebook messages. Another part of growing older is remembering and cherishing this simpler method of communication. I guess I am old.

I have always been a letter writer.  I remember as a child writing to both of my grandmothers who lived in California.  Both were widowed and led quiet lives, and at the time I just thought it normal to correspond regularly with them.  Now I realize how much they must have enjoyed receiving my crudely crafted letters.  The news to share was probably silly in hindsight; what grades I got on my spelling test (yes they actually tested for spelling back in the day) or what our pets were doing or how pretty was the dress my mother had recently sewn for me.   The postal rates were regular mail and air mail, and of course air mail was preferred. There were “air mail” stickers to plaster across the envelopes and to keep postage down we wrote on flimsy air mail stationery so that long letters were lightweight and could pass under a single unit of postage. Of course we used fountain pens.  Oh and don’t forget the sealing wax.  For my 8th birthday I received a set of stamps and sealing wax candles.  I can still smell the wax as it dripped onto the point of the envelope seal, and then I would select (quickly) the stamp of choice and stamp firmly, leaving a distinct initial or fleur de lis.

My father dutifully wrote each week to his mother, as did my mother to hers, but somehow I remember my father’s efforts more.  Phoning long distance to California was a luxury – forget unlimited talk or cell phone freedom – and so perhaps I observed his habit and incorporated it into my own routine.  When I left for college in 1970 my father wrote to me every week, and I loved opening my mail box in the Student Center and seeing his distinctive script scrawled across an envelope.  The letters were short, scratched out on tablet paper that I recognized from his work, and he always enclosed a few dollars for a treat. Usually our correspondence revolved around how the Dallas Cowboys had fared recently, or how his golf game was or just stuff about the family.  I saved every one of his letters and gathered them with ribbon.  Thank heavens in all the purging my parents did during retirement they didn’t throw out my special box of college mementos.  While cleaning out my mother’s house last spring I found all of MY letters that I had written to him.  He had saved them all too.

Preparing my 90 year old mothers’ house for sale was a tough project.  But there were treats along the way.  Packed carefully away in an old trunk were three sets of letters, bound up in aged ribbon and yellowed with time.  The first set were letters written to my grandmother from her then fiancée, the grandfather I never knew as he died when my mother was 12.  The paper was filmy onion skin, the script exquisite in its fluid loops and dips.  Why did we stop teaching penmanship in schools?  His cursive was amazingly beautiful, from a different era – I was dropped back in time into 1918.   I felt almost guilty reading about the anticipation about their upcoming nuptials.  The letters were sweet and innocent and filled with fervent passion about their future together.  The next set were the letters my grandfather had written to his daughter (my mother) while she was at camp – the summer she was 12.  A smaller stack, but the poignant part of that keepsake was the final letter written just before he was scheduled for surgery from which he did not survive.  The letter arrived after he passed away.  My mother put that final letter on top and bundled them up.  I am pretty sure she never revisited that correspondence.  She confided years ago that her childhood ended that day; that she felt old and heavy at the young age of 12 as she was an only child and felt enormous responsibility to care for her mother, a 42 year old widow who had never worked a day in her life or finished high school.  She was her mother’s caregiver until my grandmother passed away at age 98.

The final set were letters my father wrote to my mother during their courtship.  I recognized my father’s scrawl immediately.  It was more legible back then; hard to believe he had already served during World War II, gone to college on the GI bill and was just starting out at Shell Oil at the ripe old age of 30. He and my mother were engaged and he had been transferred out of town; so writing letters was the way they kept in touch.  Again I felt like a voyeur, but it was a wonderful piece of our family history that was indescribably beautiful.

As I ponder the New Year, I think about the ways I would like to make my life more meaningful.  I can lose a few pounds and exercise more, play more and worry less – but it occurred to me that I would like to write more and spend more time with pen to paper.  My calligraphy lessons have infused me with a new passion for the beauty of the printed word, but I know also the simple act of writing a letter to someone will give them more pleasure than it gives me.  So for my lovely mother-in-law and the elderly lady in California who we enjoy helping out – there is a fresh stack of note cards ready to be filled.  All I need is the sealing wax.  Amazon Prime is taking care of that.

8 thoughts on “Love Letters

  1. As I read this at 4 am on a sleepless night, I give thanks for the memories these words conjured up! I, too, miss real letters. I had forgotten about sealing wax. I miss opening a letter on lovely paper and notecards. I miss my penpal from Argentina. We began corresponding as young girls all through the years, as we had marriages and children. I always wonder what happened to her and her family. They were both teachers who disappeared off the grid in Argentina’s dark days. I am not sure tweets and texts will ever have the same longlasting impact on our lives as the handwritten word . Sad thought, indeed. Thanks for the memories.

    • Thanks for the kind words. It was a simpler time. But taking the time to sit down and actually write a note to someone with pen and paper is a wonderful ritual that is always in good taste. My daughter-in-law write me lovely thank you notes, and I treasure them. It is like receiving a gift.

  2. I also had two penpals as a child, and I also have read my father’s letters to Mother during WW II — still have them, and what a treasure. More from this guest author, please! Lovely reading, even if it’s online. :-)

  3. A wonderful post to read on a very cold morning. Your theme must be in the Universal Consciousness as just last week I purchased a box of “thinking of you” cards to send to friends rather than email. I sent a sheet of stamps (along with a Christmas check) to my grandson attending college. And, daily, I am once again reading “Simple Abundance” by Sarah Ban Breathnach–an all-time favorite book. It truly does bring “comfort and joy”.

    This post also brought back forgotten memories of putting a tiny drop of perfume on my finger and then a tiny portion of that rubbed across the stationery page as I wrote to my husband during times we were not together. He loved the faint fragrance of “me”.

    Now I’m inspired to try calligraphy again. And as one of your readers said above, thanks for the memories.

    • Thank you. Sometimes it’s the simplest things that bring the greatest joy. I forgot about the fragrance part! I used to spray my letters to my boyfriend. Let’s see….Tabu, Heaven Sent, Tigress, Shalimar. Ring any bells?

  4. I still prefer letters to any other kind of proper letter writing and on nice paper. Even though time and our busy lifestyle have seemed to have swallowed up a former space that we used to have, I still like to make the time to do it. Thank you notes, letters when someone close has died, remembering a birthday, a new baby, an engagement, an anniversary, a past death. A phone call just does not quite do it. An email definitely not. A card sometimes, if you can write a personal note.

    My daddy left for corporate training for the four months between his marriage proposal to my mother and the date of their wedding. He wrote to my mother every day that they were apart. Somehow since February 1951, the letters remained in my mother’s possession, and now in mine. What a treasure to read my father’s happiness about their pending nuptials, his love for her, his happiness in his new job and his winter adventures in Milwaukee for an El Pasoan. There is not much more I have now to bring my father back to life but to read a few of his letters.

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