The lost art of writing letters

images.jpgI have a letter to write. It is a letter I am excited to write but I can’t seem to find the words to put down on paper. I spent a great deal of time last night – meaning between midnight and six am thinking about this letter and writing letters in general.

When I was little in the 50’s and 60’s letter writing was still the thing to do. My mother had a round robin letter writing group with her old college friends. There were six of them – one started a letter and sent it off. That person then read, and wrote her letter. She then sent the two of them off and so it continued. Letters traveling around and around keeping everyone posted on their life and their thoughts. They kept this going from college until late in their lives when a few passed away and others began to find it hard to physically write. The whole thing was amazing – decades of writing.

Then there were my favorite authors or famous people who you would hear about their “letters” being saved. In my head those letters were their personal papers but as I got older I realized they were really letters. People like Georgia O’Keeffe, Anne Lindbergh (she actually made copies of all the letters she sent out and saved them), Ben Franklin, Christopher Lloyd and Beth Chatto (English Gardners) all wrote and saved letters. This list goes on and on!

Even as a kid I wrote letters. They were always a struggle but I wrote them. I wrote letters to my Grandmother during the winter when she was in Florida with friends, letters to my Aunts who gave us books when we went to visit and letters to my cousins to just say hi! None of these letters were worth saving – I can tell you that! My Grandmother saved them – oh they were bad!

Once I was in college there was a boy friend who really wanted to be a boyfriend who sent daily long letters that felt heavy and confining. I did not save those either.

Then came the boyfriend on campus we wrote during the summer months – those I saved and they are in our basement with old photos. I have no idea what our teenage selves wrote. (I guess I should check them out some cold winter day while drinking a cup of tea.)

This little letter history brings us to today when long form, hand written letters have all but disappeared. I do write a paper letter to my Aunt, who is 97, every so often and she always writes back on small lined paper (about 5 or 6 pages). I am saving those – 96 and writing me letters how special!

Most of the time we use e-mail. It is quick, efficient and easy to do. It is great for every day notes and questions. It is wonderful to make a connection with friends or someone you have never met.

But – and this one is a big one for me – it is not a medium of long thought out discussions. I don’t write what my heart feels or the struggles of my life in an e-mail. It does not seem like the place for discussing large content information like Chatto and Lloyd did in their hand written letters about their gardens.

So where does this take me – all this thinking about letters. As I said I have an important letter to write. A letter that welcomes my son’s best friend and fiancee into our family. A letter to show love and to embrace a young woman we already care dearly about. Such big thoughts and ideas to put on paper.

Oh – can I do it?

I am out of practice writing this type of letter – not sure I ever wrote letters with such meaning (even to my now husband of many years – he wrote them but I am not sure I did). I don’t have the tools around either – paper, a nice pen, envelopes. So maybe if I head out to the stationary store (do we still have stores like that?)  I know there is a paper store not far from here with fancy wrapping paper, cards and gifts. They must have stationary! Right?

So wish me luck in finding the words and the stationary to let this young lady and the soon to be couple know how much we care about them.



About Joanne Toft

I am a retired Minneapolis Public School teacher. I walk, garden, care for my Grandson and write. Life is good!
This entry was posted in genres in writing, Reflection, slice of life. Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to The lost art of writing letters

  1. Ramona says:

    Oh, your words about handwritten letters resonate with me. I keep trying to establish a letter writing habit, even going so far one year to commit to writing a letter a day. I still have my failed record page, maybe I’ll pick up where I stopped. I know you’ll find just the right words. My mother-in-law (who never met me until after we were engaged) gifted me Where the Sidewalk Ends with these words penned inside (after we met for the first time): “At the beginning of a loving and lasting relationship.” I cherish this book and her love and her beautifully handwritten words..

  2. Terje says:

    Wishing you luck in finding the words and writing the letter. I am from a generation that still wrote letters, and I have some saved. The last proper letter I wrote must have been about twenty years ago.

  3. Fran Haley says:

    What a fabulous reason to return to letter-writing! I am reminded of my grandmother’s letters – we wrote back and forth when I was growing up. They’re priceless to me now. And I found many of mine in her things after she died. There’s truly something in an “old-fashioned” letter that doesn’t come across any other way … perhaps that the writer’s hand actually wrote them, that the muscles, nerves, veins that formed the words are connected to the heart and brain. Personality and soul come through. Powerful, indeed. Best wishes in this beautiful venture.

  4. Adrienne says:

    I, too, love letters and miss writing them. I did a year if high school as an exchange student in 1982-83. My parents saved all my letters and I still have them. There is a power to something handwritten that isn;t there with things in type. It feels so much more personal.

  5. mbhmaine says:

    Your post was a delight from start to finish. How wonderful that you and your aunt maintain a written correspondence! I have bundles of old letters in boxes and once came upon letters my mother (who died was I was 14) had written to my grandmother. (My grandmother must have sent them to our house at some point.) There is something rich and wonderful about holding a hand-written letter, once held by the writer. I am certain that the young woman you are writing will treasure your letter and the thought and caring that went into it.

  6. It will be a cherished letter, I am sure. I, too, have gone through many different correspondences during my life and miss them now. I write a few letters every once in a while, but not the same as as it used to be.

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