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Let’s not Lose Letter Writing


screen-shot-2017-02-22-at-6-17-10-pmWhen Husband and I moved into our new house recently, I carried four boxes labeled “Letters” upstairs and stored them on the closet shelves in my writing-sewing-everything-room.

I glanced in one open cardboard box. Thin red ribbons tie together stacks of airmail letters. From Dad to Mom while he served in the Army during World War II and Mom was home in Byrdstown, Tennessee, caring for their toddler son and living with Dad’s mother. I’ve had this box since Mom’s death in 1991. Dad said, “You take those. Your mother kept them all these years.” And I’ve kept them for twenty-six years.

Although he was a teacher before being drafted, Dad served as a medic. One letter heading reads, “Somewhere in Germany. April 17,1945.” Dad wrote, “Notice the new APO number and address. I have seen three European countries: France, Belgium, and now Germany. We are in a group of buildings formerly occupied by a civilian hospital and we are certainly lucky to get such a set up. I can’t believe it is true after expecting to sleep in pup tents and have the hospital in tents. That could change anytime, but I’m keeping my fingers crossed. Sure is nice to write under the old light bulb once more.” He described the countryside of Belgium and Germany and then wrote words Mom must have cherished. “Darling, I am in no danger. Remember I love you very much and am just waiting for the day we can be together again.”

The envelope is stamped FREE. On the bottom left corner is a small rectangular black stamp with the words “Passed by Amy Examiner.” William G Healy, 1st Lt. scrawled his name to indicate that he approved Dad’s letter. So much history and love in one letter.

I’ve fill three legal-sized envelope boxes with letters I’ve received. Some newsy letters. Some love letters. Some required writings from my children when they were young and at camp. Some surprise letters. Some from former students.

Tommy was in my 6th grade class, 1991-92. In a letter he wrote on May 5, 1993, after his 7th grade, he wrote, “About school, the most important thing that happened was in math. My teacher Mrs. Holland said it was the most extraordinary change she had see in all her 23 years of teaching. I brought up my math grade 26 points, from 64 to 90.”

Until two months ago, I hadn’t seen Tommy since May 1992 as he walked out of my classroom. While visiting Daughter, I stood in the kitchen when a heating service man walked through. I nodded in greeting. He took three steps and stopped. “Mrs. Ray?” he said. He held out his arms and we hugged. A tight hug. Tommy had been a student I wished I could’ve brought home. A kid I often wondered about. Was he okay? He is. Better than okay.

Letter writing. Let’s not lose it. Who would like to receive a letter from you?





Why Write Letters?

screen-shot-2017-02-15-at-11-47-55-pmDavid, 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.