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Family Files

Facts for All Ages

By the Way, You've Got Mail!

My son headed off to college this year and being the nice mom that I am, I decided to send him a letter to let him know that I miss him and was thinking about him. We talked on the phone a couple of times after I thought he would have received the letter and he didn't mention it. Finally, a week later I asked him if he ever received the letter. He said that he never thought to go and check his mailbox because he never gets letters. I got to thinking about this and realized he is right! Is letter writing a lost art?

When I was in college, which was quite a while ago, one of the things I looked forward to was receiving a letter in the mail. It was part of my daily routine as I returned to my dorm after my last class to look in my little wooden mail slot housed among the hundreds of other wooden mail slots for some kind of correspondence from someone who loved me. There were many days when I would see paper in the slot and my heart would quicken with excitement, only to discover it was a fast food coupon or other advertisement. But then there were the days when I would unmistakably see the small envelope that was addressed to me in a familiar, instantly recognizable script. It was always a moment of pure delight as I quickly and carefully opened the letter knowing that I would be saving it along with many other letters in the floral decorated box found on top of my dresser. Incidentally, the vast majority of my saved letters were from my Gram, whom I loved very much, and who lived with me and my family back home.

As I fast forward to several years later, I started dating a guy who today is my husband of 20+ years. We were only dating a short time when I received the sweetest card with a handwritten note inside telling me how glad he was that we found each other. His letter writing to me and mine to him continues to this day with literally hundreds of handwritten, heartfelt, beautiful letters, housed in none other than the same floral box I used in college. This box is my most treasured keepsake; it is also my life and my legacy.

My Gram has been gone since 1984, the year I graduated college, but I still look at her letters every now and again. Her shaky but beautiful cursive writing comes alive on the page as I imagine her sitting at the kitchen table jotting down a few wonderful and encouraging words and neatly folding the letter along with a five dollar bill to fit perfectly into the small envelope. She always wrote a "P.S." at the bottom that said the same thing on every letter, "here is a little money to treat yourself to something nice." I think about that now and smile. I smile because here it is 30+ years later and a part of her is still with me because of her letters.

For me, my Gram's handwritten letters are an intimate, personal connection to her. Her unique and lovely penmanship will forever be recognizable to me and will always remind me of who she was and what she meant to me. If all of her letters were electronically sent to me, I would hope that I would treasure them, but only if I either printed them off or saved them in some way. Her penned letters are more special to me because they are a part of her. I know she touched them with her hands as well as her heart when she wrote them.

Some may argue that correspondence with others is more alive than ever with the ability to convey thoughts instantly in an email or text. I suppose that is true to a point. The ability to communicate quickly is certainly an advantage in today's fast-paced technologically convenient world, but I believe there are distinct benefits to writing letters the old fashioned way:

  • The exchange of letters back and forth is a way to build relationships, especially those at a distance.
  • Letters can be important genealogical contributions for those who are researching their family trees. Letters become a legacy if they are saved and passed on. This is a way for future generations to learn from and about past generations.
  • Manually composing one's thoughts in longhand and taking the time to sign, seal, stamp and mail a letter versus hitting the send button seems to be a more concrete, purposeful, and emotional investment of time.
  • The chances of being distracted by incoming email and instant messages are eliminated when your equipment is pen and paper and not a technological device. The quality of your letters may even improve when your only thoughts are what you want to write without the disruption of a constant stream of incoming messages.

When compact disks replaced record albums, and music downloads replaced compact disks, I never thought there would be a revival or comeback of listening to music by vinyl, but here we are! So, it is my personal mission to bring back the vintage art of letter writing! Are you with me? The only cost to you is time and a postage stamp!



I realized how valuable the art and practice of writing letters is, and how important it is to remind people of what a treasure letters—handwritten letters—can be. In our throwaway era of quick phone calls, faxes, and email, it's all too easy never to find the time to write letters. That's a great pity—for historians and the rest of us.

Nancy Reagan

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