As a third grader in the 1950s, I learned that handwritten letters were sacred. Sister Lucian taught our class the format of a business letter. “A business letter,” she said, “must involve the utmost clarity.”
Next, she taught us about personal letters. A personal letter began, “How are you? I am fine.” The intent is clear: when writing a letter, you first express your interest in the recipient. Secondly, you may share your news. But, she cautioned us, don’t begin by whining.
Recently I sorted approximately 250 letters that were packed into a crawl space. I had bundled these letters 30 years ago when I stored them, but I couldn’t bear to read them all in a row because of the self-recrimination (did I ever answer the burning question?) mixed with discovery and delight.
One question that I asked myself as I sorted: If I’m not old, why was postage six cents when I was in high school?
Some letter samples, some rediscovered:
To our children, from a friend who had recently moved:
“The houses here [in San Francisco] are painted all different colors. They look like the ones you draw for Sharron and me.”
“There is no snow here so you both will have to play in it for us.”
A friend from 7th grade, writing as an adult:
“I can’t believe, Jane, how fortunate this thing called life is, how wonderful, how amazingly creative the whole enterprise is.”
My daughter living abroad:
“Why is Bush president? What’s wrong with that country you live in . . . but thanks to people like you believing in the two-party faux-democratic oligarchy, Nader didn’t even get five per cent. How do you live in a country where the major media outlets tell you NOT to vote for someone and then still pretend to yourself that you live in a democracy?”
“It’s a mild evening in San Francisco. I walked through Golden Gate Park, which has to be the most beautiful city park in the country. It has rolling, contoured hills, lakes with ducks and sea gulls abounding, and rambling meadows that invite kites, balls and Frisbees. One can walk right to the ocean through this park—so I did—and warm sun, the wind and the roaring breakers put me into instant meditation.
My friend from Belgium:
“Jane, I loved every second I spent in your America.”
New neighborhood friend:
“What a friendly gesture it was to stop by on Monday. It was a real surprise, too, because our doorbells aren’t ringing much these days.”
Holding onto words, through writing, is more than a glimpse of the writer’s feelings. It’s a link to our own. Record your history. Connect. Support the United States Postal Service. Enjoy the miracle of thoughts recorded. Write a letter.