The Lost Art of Letter Writing

Many years ago I remember sneaking up to one of the spare bedrooms of my grandparent’s farmhouse and discovering a packet of letters tucked into one of the bottom dresser drawers – letters between my Grandma and Grandpa Kauffman during their (so I believe, anyway) courtship. I don’t remember everything they said. All I knew was they were private and was so worried about getting caught that I didn’t linger over the content for long. I just remember perfect, perfect penmanship; tiny, neat rows of cursive handwriting; faded blue ink; small pages of thin white paper folded neatly into fourths with nary a wrinkle save for the creases. Clearly, these letters were cherished, kept safe (except for snooping grandchildren), and important to Grandma. I thought it was all terribly romantic.

I don’t remember everything they said. All I knew was they were private and was so worried about getting caught that I didn’t linger over the content for long. I just remember perfect, perfect penmanship; tiny, neat rows of cursive handwriting; faded blue ink; small pages of thin white paper folded neatly into fourths with nary a wrinkle save for the creases. Clearly, these letters were cherished, kept safe (except for snooping grandchildren), and important to Grandma. I thought it was all terribly romantic.

I just remember perfect, perfect penmanship; tiny, neat rows of cursive handwriting; faded blue ink; small pages of thin white paper folded neatly into fourths with nary a wrinkle save for the creases. Clearly, these letters were cherished, kept safe (except for snooping grandchildren), and important to Grandma. I thought it was all terribly romantic.

I still think about those letters from time to time and wonder what became of them. As we enter deeper and deeper into a digital age, the art of letter writing and communicating via tangible means is quickly becoming a thing of the past.

Now don’t get me wrong. I love email. I love text messaging. I’m psychologically dependent on Facebook. I rely heavily on the many means of super quick correspondence that is available to stay in touch with friends, family, and sometimes total strangers, no matter where I am or what I am doing. It’s hard to fathom a world where I don’t have at least five options to track someone down at any given moment.

But where does it all go?

Email addresses change. Text messages are accidentally deleted.  Phones are dropped in toilets. Finding messages in Facebook older than six months can be a real pain in the you-know-what. So much of what we communicate is temporary.

I don’t know, maybe I’m just overly sentimental. I’m the type of person who saves a lot of birthday cards. I have kept practically every single note that came through my hands during middle school and high school. I love going back and reading all of them, not to “relive my youth” (that’s why I watch Peter Pan), but to simply remember.

Sometimes I’ll find a card with an encouraging note and I’ll remember why it was sent to me at that certain point in my life; it reminds me of how far I’ve come from a particular situation.

Sometimes it’s just nice to see familiar handwriting.

Apart from the few monthly bills I pay with by check rather than online, I never use the postal service anymore. I rarely mail cards. If I’m having a party, I’ll invite people on Facebook. Apart from the occasional baby shower invite or Christmas letters, my mailbox is nothing more than a repository for junk flyers and the occasional magazine subscription. I can’t tell you the last time I bought stamps. I think I’m still using the same roll from my sister’s bridal shower… six years ago.

It kind of makes me sad. Any Jane Austen movie adaptation shows the characters forever writing these beautiful long letters with their beautiful pens on their beautiful stationery. And when they aren’t writing, they’re clutching the envelope to their bosom as they circle the garden and reread every word at least a dozen times.

(Okay, clearly that is no longer necessary or practical. Which is good, as I have no garden to speak of.)

I’m not talking about abandoning the marvelous means of communication the 21st century has given us. I’m also not implying that we document every conversation for posterity’s sake. The text “wat up?” doesn’t need to live on. In fact, it would be great if our descendants didn’t know half of the crack-pot terminology we use today.

I’m suggesting, more to myself than anyone, that we remember we have an alternative to the sometimes impersonal email or text or Facebook message. I know I personally love getting something in the mail besides bills or life insurance policies. There’s just something about having something physical to hold onto… to re-read it in five, ten, or twenty years… to show your kids or your grandkids… to recognize the handwriting and know immediately who it’s from before you open the envelope…

Let’s take a few minutes out of our the week and send a funny card or write a letter to somebody you’ve not been in touch with lately. A note of encouragement. A thank you letter to a teacher or mentor. A card just for the heck of it, no reason needed.

Let’s consider it going postal in the nicest way possible.

 

 

Share Button

Leave A Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *