The Lost Art of Letter-Writing

With texting, social media, smartphones and all the variations of such, letter-writing is becoming a thing of the past. Our mail is filled with catalogs, pleas for contributions, ads and other junk mail. Rarely do I get an actual letter anymore. If I do, it is usually from someone older.

Recently, I have received a couple of thumb drives from my brother, filled with what he refers to as “The Family Archives.” Old pictures, letters, certificates, and newspaper clippings have been scanned by him and placed on his computer. He oftentimes emails me snippets, but the thumb drives contain massive amounts of material.

As he scans the “archives,” some questions have arisen. (Fred is a stickier for details and wants to have the dates and events clearly documented.) Some of the questions include “When was the trip to Washington state?” and “What illness did Joe have in 1993?” Some things I remember and others I don’t recall at all. The lesson I am learning is that, my memory isn’t as great as I thought it was. The letters are reminding me of past events that are long forgotten, or as my husband says, “put in the recycle bin of your mind.”

I also realize that my parents were avid letter-writers. As a kid, I knew Mom wrote letters to her sisters and mother back in Pennsylvania and I was encouraged to do so as well, but I didn’t realize that my parents wrote to each other every day when they were apart!

My dad was a hospital administrator and frequently traveled to conferences and meetings. Mom wrote him every day he was gone and he wrote her back.

My brother recently sent me a series of letters that Dad and Mom had exchanged when she was on a trip back East with my sister. I was amazed at how my father figured out exactly where to send the letters as my mom traveled. She stopped in St. Louis along the way and stayed with my aunt. There was a letter in St. Louis for Mom! She stopped in northwestern Pennsylvania to visit other relatives–there was a letter waiting for her. She stayed with her family in eastern Pennsylvania–there was a letter for her every day she was there. Mom had it easier because her daily letters went to Dad at home, but somehow Dad figured out where she would be every day she was gone and he sent her letters to those locations. Amazing!

The letters are filled with mundane, every day things but also lots of love. They are giving me a sense of what I was like as a teenager and the relationships with my siblings and parents. Some things are quite the eye-openers!

The letters also help me remember handwriting. I recognize my mother’s hand right away. My grandmother had distinctive handwriting, even as she became blind from glaucoma. Even my own handwriting–as it has morphed with age.

I also am getting a glimpse of some the paper/stationery we used back then. I am including a letter on stationery with a homesteader’s picture from my dad (he usually typed his letters as his handwriting was difficult to read) and a letter from my mom on plain paper.

mothertofamily1965-06-12-01                      fathertomother1965-06-16

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3 thoughts on “The Lost Art of Letter-Writing

  1. So, is it a dying art, or do we actually write much more now, just that the writing we do is texting, messaging, Facebooking, Twitter, emails, etc? Writing is a form of communication. I feel a lot more connected with a lot more people now than I ever have. I’ve made so many great friends thanks to being able to casually connect on FB.

    Having said that, I hope we keep handwriting in the world. It turns words into creativity. Something about the movement it takes to write, I think.

    My husband and I talked about how his grandmother and my mother used to write in a diary every day. Just what the weather was, who dropped by, what was in the news, and of course, the price of corn, or other farm details. We’re now at the age where we forget, too. I used to think those old timers wrote those diaries because they didn’t have TV to keep them busy. Now I think they wrote them down so they remembered things! Come to think of it… it may be time for me to start keeping a diary!!

    • We may be writing just as much as in the past but letter-writing is a lost art, in my opinion. (Hence the title: “The Lost Art of Letter-Writing.”) What is unfortunate about our current means of communication is that it is ephemeral, here and gone in an instant. Personal history is lost. Texting, etc leaves nothing tangible to hang on to. Will the books we are writing today be around 20 years from now? There will be no letters to reread and look back on. Will our ebooks be the same? What are we leaving for “posterity?”

      Thank you for your thoughtful comments. I appreciate your insight.

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