David, age 11, looked at me as if I’d asked him to run twenty miles and carry me on his back. “Really, Gran? I have to write a letter? Mom has me write thank you notes. That’s a letter.” David and I sat side-by-side for our once-a-week writing time.
I bit my tongue before saying, “Because everybody should know how to write a real letter and I’m the teacher.” Instead, I said, “Because some of my greatest treasures are real letters. My dad’s letters to Mom when he was in the Army in Germany during World War II. Some from my brother when he was in the Air Force in Spain and I was a high school student. From my mother’s aunt. From Pop to me before we married. ”
“Pop wrote you letters? What’d he say? Can I see them?” David asked. My Grand’s distraction tactic almost worked. I shook my head. Another time, maybe.
I said, “Writing letters was the way people who lived long distances from each other communicated before email and text. Even before phones. It’s a skill.” David’s attitude about this task lighten and he laughed when I acted out the five parts of a friendly letter. I pointed to my head for heading, mouth for greeting, body, leg for closing, and I kicked for signature.
Does anyone else have fond memories of receiving letters? Clutching a letter from Mom’s aunt, I ran from the mailbox to my house. In a kid-like way, I wanted to open the fat envelope immediately, but Mom made reading Aunt Anne’s letter an event. Time allotted to brew a cup of tea and enjoy the many handwritten pages, front and back. Mom first read silently, maybe to censor anything that shouldn’t be shared with me. Then she’d read aloud and then kept the letter on the hallway table until she responded. After Mom’s death, I discovered many letters in a shoebox.
I keep one of Aunt Anne’s letters, dated 1965, in a three-ring notebook of my favorite recipes. The letter includes a recipe for yeast biscuits and Aunt Anne explained how to roll the dough, spread half of it with melted butter, carefully fold the other half on top, press lightly, and then cut out biscuits. Those baked biscuits open perfectly. As much as I appreciate the recipe, I love that I still connect with Aunt Anne and Mom through this letter.
David wrote his other grandmother and questioned writing ‘Dear’ in the greeting. “Can’t I just write To Grandma?” He struggled with what to write and said, “We tell her everything on the phone.” Finally, he wrote about moving his bed and clothes and things to the basement of his home. He wrote the closing in capital letters. LOVE. After he’d addressed the envelope, stamped, and sealed it, he said, “I hope she writes me back.”
David might not store Grandma’s handwritten letter in a box, but he’ll always remember she wrote just to him.