Among the family treasures Mom left behind were packets of her personal letters. The earliest ones were written to her parents in the months after she divorced my father. My brother was four; I was a toddler. Mom was preparing to marry again. Her new marriage would take her over a thousand miles from home. Usually she wrote to both parents but one letter was addressed only to her mom, my grandmother.
“Mother, I know what I’m doing so don’t worry. I am very happy…and I’m sure everything is going to work out perfect. (He) loves me and thinks a lot of the kids. We have very nice plans for the future. We are so happy when we’re together and we have talked everything over, and we seem to feel the same way about everything.”
A twenty-five year old daughter, writing to reassure her worried mother.
A few weeks ago my dear aunt sent me another letter Mom had written, one I had never seen. This one was written in southern Wisconsin and mailed to my uncle in northern Minnesota. It was written five years after the letter mentioned above. By then my brother and I had been joined by two younger siblings.
“The children are going to Sunday School here now at the Faith Lutheran Church….We have been going to church there too, every Sunday since they started Sunday School.”
I know my uncle cherished his sister’s letter. In those pre-Internet days when phone calls were only for holidays or emergencies, letters were how people communicated, how separated families kept in touch. Letters were eagerly awaited. Receiving one was a gift.
“We had another letter from Jim and one from his fiancé…Elizabeth. They are going to be married August 15th. She sent a clipping of their engagement and her picture out of the paper.”
Just as my uncle had when it was new, I enjoyed receiving this letter, so many years after it was written. It brought back precious memories from days gone by. It gave me a glimpse into our family’s history, written in Mom’s fine penmanship.
“(All of us) went for a picnic in Palmer Park on Sunday. Really enjoyed it. The (kiddies) went in the pool. We roasted wieners and marshmallows.”
This picture is from another Sunday, in another park, but the same year, and with the same people. Along with Sunday School, picnics became a regular event, an inexpensive way to gather with family, and enjoy each others company. I’ve had a copy of this picture for years but when I read Mom’s words about the picnic, it reminded me anew of those warm, carefree days.
In the letter my aunt sent me, Mom also wrote about my little sister’s illness, and of my step-dad’s still fledgling business, how much money he’d earned the week before, and his hopes for a city contract. These small details make this particular letter even more priceless, more poignant. More poignant still is what she could not write in it. Just over a year later, an unforeseen accident would take the life of her youngest son, my brother Tim.
I believe in the value of holding on to old family letters. While some details may seem insignificant now, in a few years time they’ll refresh treasured bits of memory, and serve as a part of family history.
The Internet has pushed letter writing into obscurity. For the wordier among us, it has been replaced by e-mail. Others rely on Facebook or Twitter for rushed messages. Twitter only allows 140 characters but a lot can be said in a few words. I can almost see a snippet from one of Mom’s letters tweeted to the masses “Baked a chocolate cake today.” Those words alone would remind me of her. Of course, it wouldn’t be in her handwriting, on the prettiest stationery she could afford.
I do like aspects of the new social media. I love the ability to almost instantly see pictures of my grand-nieces and grand-nephews blowing out their birthday candles. I love the shorthand way of sending an animated electronic greeting card. And I know how very much military families treasure frequent e-mailed messages from loved ones serving overseas. I do hope they think to print them, or save them in some manner, for the future.
Tucked away, tied in ribbon and stacked in a sturdy box are letters my husband wrote to me when he was stationed overseas. In another box are those I wrote him. We haven’t looked at them in years, but each one was received with as much joy as any e-mailed message. In old age we’ll sit down and re-read these letters written and mailed with love, and loneliness. Memories will awake.
Do you save old family letters? How long has it been since you received a handwritten letter in the mailbox? How long since you sent one? ♥