Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Letters from Home. Letters from the Heart.


Yesterday's poem made me think about the beauty of handwritten letters and how much I miss them. Yes, I love the speed and efficiency of e-mail and texting, but e-mail is fast food in a bag, and texting is a cellophane wrapped roll of doughnuts from the vending machine. A handwritten letter in a real envelope, with a real stamp, is a home cooked meal with a tablecloth and flowers on the table. There is a presence, a substance to it. To me there is nothing better than finding a real letter in my stack of bills and advertisements. When I get one, I take it to my favorite spot in the house, sit down with it and relish all of it, beginning with the sensory experiences of the tearing open of the the envelope and the almost majestic unfolding of the paper.

I graduated from grad school and moved away from my grad school buddies around 1984 or so. I moved to a new city so HOB could go back to school. My circle of friends from school wrote and wrote and wrote letters to me. Oh, Blessed English Majors! The letters were long, descriptive missives and they sustained me. Their letters kept coming after I had moved again and had Sonny Boy. I would cradle him in one arm and hold their letters in my other hand. They kept me connected to the world and to them. Once e-mail snuck into our worlds, and beckoned us with that crooked finger, we started using that to keep connected, but it wasn't the same. Granted, our lives changed and we probably would not have kept up the letter writing, but I think e-mail hastened the end of it.

I kept all those letters, plus some from my sisters and my mom. I am so grateful to have them, to have that ink upon paper, those envelopes with 15 cent stamps. The letter pictured above was from my Grandma Bessie to me when I was a sophomore in college. I loved her and she loved me. I thrived in college and liked pretty much everything about it, but there were parts that were new and challenging and I wasn't prepared for it. For one thing I lived in a dorm where partying was BIG. I tried to fit in but wasn't really a party girl. However, I wanted desperately to be like everyone else. Luckily, I had a loud and crazy personality even while stone sober, so all I had to do was carry around a glass of 7-Up at parties and people were sure it was alcohol and that I was drunk.

I remember getting Grandma Bessie's letter amid all the parties, all the craziness of college life. I'd read it while sitting my room at school, someone cussing out in the hall, the faint smell of pot wafting from the room across from mine, my roommate dragging in from a late night date with some sleezebag she barely knew. I sat there with my grandma's letter in my hand and knew she was writing to the real me. For just a few minutes, I didn't have to act like or be someone I wasn't. While I was holding that letter, I could relax and be that uncomplicated girl that she knew and loved.

Here's the text of the letter above:

March 21, 1979

I've been meaning to write you for some time. I am still enjoying the pretty carnation you gave me. It's so nice yet. I'd like to give you a hug every time I look at it. Hope you are getting along all OK. Well, this is the first day of Spring. Guess it feels like it too. Didn't we have a lot of snow this winter? I can shut my eyes and see some of the snow banks. Donald came and took us for a ride in the country and I never saw such banks of snow.

Get yourself a little treat and come and see us whenever you can.

Lots of Love,
Grandma Bessie

She always included a dollar bill in the letter, and I always did just what she suggested. I'd take a break from studying, go to the union and buy myself a bag of jawbreakers or some ice cream and think of her as I was eating my treat.

Now I have a son in college and I realize that I have never written him a letter. We e-mail occasionally and text occasionally and believe me, the child is frighteningly well-adjusted. But, I've decided I'm going to write him a letter now and then--a real letter, one that he'll find sitting in his mailbox, one made from paper and ink and in my handwriting, one that takes more than just a click of a button to read.

Because he is of the generation of technology, texting and tweeting, perhaps it won't mean that much to him, but I'll still send it. One of my commenters, Double Wide Mom, said yesterday, that she still sends her college kids handwritten letters "...because I can." I loved that. It summed it all up for me.

It will be a letter from home sitting in his mailbox. A letter from Mom.

I'll send it because I can.


19 comments:

Ally said...

My mother saved all of the letters I wrote her from college. What's funny is I too saved all of the letters she wrote me while I was away at college. I also saved Grandma's letters and Grandma is suffering from Alzheimer's today.

I love your analogies regarding texting and emailing. Although I'm addicted, what you said is so very true!

Joe Cap said...

I agree that email is so much less personal than a hand-written letter, and while I still like to GET letters written by hand, I never have liked writing them. My hand writing is so bad, even if I print it carefully, it just takes too long for me and is too much of a chore.
So I enjoy email only because I can say hi without going through the tedious process of making it legible.

Double Wide Mom said...

I have tears in my eyes. Not only because you mentioned me but because of the lost art of letter-writing. Your post reminded me of all the letters I received from my grandmother and her precious sister. They wrote letters literally until arthritis wouldn't let them and I think that's what I was thinking about yesterday. But those last letters with the shaky handwriting are still in a drawer and I can still look at them, smell them, touch something that their own beautiful hands once touched. Ok. I gotta go now. I'm blubbering and I Didn't mean to blog here, but thanks so much for this. Did I tell you how much I love your yellow background? I DO!

Crystal Cook said...

I love this Betty, you are an amazing writer. I can't believe you could make me laugh and almost cry in this one post! I think I'll send someone a letter today, just because I can :)

Miriam in KS said...

*sniff*...Off to write a letter to my own college boy to have in his box when he goes back to school from Spring Break. *sniff*

Because I can.

JennyMac said...

I love handwritten letters and still send my family letters and cards. I love the letters during war time that were also long descriptive missives with such poetry and fluidity. Love your letter from Grandma Bessie too. Get yourself a treat!

Lindy MacDuff said...

I still have every letter my grandma wrote to me. I have letters my mom wrote after my hubby and I moved away from our home town, and letters my dad wrote after Mom lost her eyesight. All three of them are gone from this world and I will cherish those letters until my last breath. Reading the letters when they were first received and reading them after my loved ones had passed is like sitting down and visiting with them over a cup of coffee.

Nice memories you have caused us to have with your post today, Betty. =)

Pat Tillett said...

A lost art for sure. Sadly so...
Technology is not always a good thing. How many other things like this have faded away?

liz said...

That is so sweet and sincere! And I loved your metaphors. Very true!

Elizabeth said...

I think of a "real" letter as where I communicate thoughts, feelings, and impressions. Email and texting are very business-like for me. Not that I use them for business, but I am short and to the point, while in a real letter I'll be much more expressive.

The Girl Next Door Grows Up said...

I don't have kids in college, but my 10 yr old has a handmade mailbox in her room where I drop little "notes" infor her to find after school.

Ann said...

My daughter moved this past January to Colorado. I've been trying to send her something in the mail on a regular basis whether it's a card, letter or a little something with a note. May not mean much to her but it feels like we're still not so far apart if I can reach her with the mail.

Alyssa said...

To me there's not enough that can be said about the beauty and richness of a handwritten letter. I miss them, so much. Less frequent, I know, than today's communication...but the quality...

Thanks for this post. Sending a letter, handwritten, soon...

Alissa said...

Sometimes I am pretty positive I was born in the wrong time. Yes, there are many modern conveniences I adore, but real, written letters are such a special thing, and such a much better way of keeping in touch with people than the dreaded Facebook.

Shan said...

Oh, as soon as I saw the letter my own grandmother came to mind. It seems that a few generations of people all had the same exact handwriting.

I have most of the letters Grandma wrote to me and then to my son. I even have a few of the last ones I wrote to her. And I remember the very first time I wrote a letter to be mailed, it was to my grandparents.

These days getting a handwritten envelope almost always means a card with a note, but I love them when they arrive, too.

RawknRobynsGoneBlogWild said...

There's nothing like a good old fashioned letter to warm one's heart and soul - be that person the writer or the recipient.
Great post.
Cheers,
Robyn

Susan said...

BB, I loved getting your letters, too! A few years ago a new friend of mine went away to college, and I wrote a couple of letters on legal pad paper-- it was all I had at school. I poured out my heart and told her about a couple dreams I had had. She never wrote back. Later, when I asked her if she had gotten my letters, she said, "yes. Why did you do that? My friends all thought you were weird writing a handwritten letter -- on yellow paper!" I was so hurt by her remark that I very rarely write letters anymore. But reading your blog entry has made me realize that not everybody thinks the way she does. Maybe it is a generational thing,but I owe you a letter soon, and I will write one because I know you appreciate it!

LittleSilkDress said...

Sadly, I did not experience much of the age of handwritten and mailed letters. Email is wonderful, but I also love receiving something other than bills and junk mail. A handwritten letter means someone cares enough to carve out that time and effort for you.

Also, love your metaphors.

The girl with the flour in her hair said...

Oh, I agree! I LOVE getting hand written letters in the mail. They are magical. I love writing them as well. I used to be addicted to stationary and pretty pens and fancy envelopes. I don't know why I don't do it anymore.