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  • Betty Girardeau

The Art Of Letter Writing


I recently read something about the fact that no one writes real letters anymore. I do. I always write handwritten thank you notes for Christmas and birthday gifts. I always write notes of condolence. I come from a family that wrote weekly letters to each other, in fact in a rather unique way. The advent of the typewriter, the tech device of its day, had a lot to do with this. On my Mother's side of the family Sunday afternoon was set aside to write a letter with multiple carbon copies, a copy for each family member. I know my Mother often felt this was an unpleasant, but necessary, obligation. Her Mother would worry if she did not get the usual letter when expected, and she could be sure that something would be said about it in her next Sunday letter. My Father's family developed another unique style of family letters. They, too, started out as typed carbon copies that went to everyone. And they were not necessarily weekly either. But once received, the original letter was often put back into the typewriter and the recipient would add comments and news to the one that had already been received and this copy would be remailed. I still have copies of letters like this which include a recipe that someone wanted after learning that the writer had really liked it and wanted to share it. As I said, my Mother was glad to get her obligatory "family letter" written and in the mail on Sunday evening. My father was just as good about getting letters out to his family, but, in later years particularly, would put the multi-copy letter into the typewriter and then add a little bit each day before sending the completed letter to the various family members later in the week. Growing up in a small town my whole family was able to have lunch together every day. Usually by Wednesday or Thursday there would be one or more family letters in the mail, and they were usually read aloud while we enjoyed our lunch. When I went off to college I was "expected" to become part of family letter thing, too. I hated that obligation and quickly understood why my mother didn't relish her time at the typewriter each Sunday. So I did "drop by the wayside" for a time. But as I have gotten older and watched the size of my family become smaller I realize more than I used to how important these connections are. I have now become a Sunday family letter writer again, too. But these days they are written on a computer and sent via email. There are only three of us now still keeping the weekly "family letter" alive. Connections with my children and grandchildren these days are brief text messages and phone calls. These are not something that can be easily saved and tied with a ribbon. It is sad that when my children rummage through my things after I am gone they will not find a stack of saved letters to open and read that will briefly reconnect them to me and others. Despite the fact that much of what is written in a family letter are comments about mundane daily life, finding and reading an old letter can be more of a joy today than years ago when it first showed up in the mailbox. Through those words the writer and his/her life briefly live again. Without old letters how will we really be remembered? Certainly old pictures are not enough. The accompanying picture today is a photo composite I made using geese feathers I found on my walk on Monday.


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