Holding the Writer in Your Hands

Vermeer--Girl Reading a Letter at an Open Window

This was an unusual mail week. Rather than just the usual advertisements, credit card solicitations and bills, I received three personal letters written by hand, carefully and thoughtfully composed, all meant to encourage me. I was amazed at the caring shown by three different women who took the time to sit down and write to me.

Usually when one of my stories is published in Country Magazine, about three times a year, I receive hand written letters from people I have never met, forwarded by the Country Magazine editors. The writers are often over the age of 80. Sometimes there are 3 pages of stories they want to share with me about their experiences growing up on a farm or living in a rural community in bygone days. They share their humorous tales that make me chuckle and poignant memories that make me tear up.

It reminded me how infrequently I actually hand write any communication any more, how dependent I’ve become on the instantaneous nature of email, and how much I used to enjoy writing letters back and forth to family and friends, in what feels like another life. It has been too long. I want to commit to write a letter a week to someone who needs to be able to feel the caring right in their hands.

Letters can be forever–a tangible representation of the writer illustrated by their choice of envelope, stamp and paper, writing utensil, style of script, sometimes a scent. The neatness or hurried nature of the writing says something about the urgency with which it was written. Emails have none of those features, and can feel ephemeral, although we know they can always be found and retrieved, for good and for ill, by those who know how to look for them.

One of my hopeful projects will be sorting through my parents’ letters to each other during their three year separation while my father served as a Marine in the South Pacific during WWII. The letters are tied in bundles in a large box that I have not had the will to open since moving my mother’s possessions after her death. I know once I start to read these very private and heartfelt letters, I will find it difficult to stop.

Does a blog of daily thoughts become a reasonable substitute for a collection of letters? Hardly. The page that can be held in the reader’s hands holds the writer too. That is something a computer screen can never manage to do.

4 thoughts on “Holding the Writer in Your Hands

  1. what a timely subject . I just mailed out three hand written letters yesterday … I try to write to a couple dear friends and my grandma who is 99 and lives in Denver . I try to write at least once a month . sometimes it feels like I have nothing new to say but they always enjoy the “farm news” .
    My Mom had a pen pal her entire life so since my Mom passed away many years ago I write to my Mom’s pen pal and it is so special when I hear back from her and yes a letter in the mail is very precious … enjoy the hand written letters from your Mom and Dad . that will be a treasure you can share with your kids and their kids , a history of love . thanks for sharing with us … Peggy in a snowy day in eastern Wash .

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  2. How lucky that you have the letters. What a wonderful opportunity for you to see into the lives of your parents, who they were and the things they thought and worried about.
    So very sorry to hear of your loss.

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  3. Congrats on getting another article published. So sweet of the ladies who write back. I miss writing letters by hand. I used to make a lot of greeting cards with my pretty papers and stamps and then write letters in them but now I often have too much pain to manipulate the pen and crafting tools for that long.

    Maybe you’ll find some stories you can write about in your parents’ letters. Sorry for your loss and hope you can find some healing and great memories in their correspondence.

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