Looking Back

The lost art of letters

When is the last time you received a letter in the mail? I bet it’s been awhile unless there is someone in your life who actually owns a box of stationery and enjoys taking “pen in hand.” Letter writing is slowly becoming a lost art.

It also means a big piece of history will be missing. Emails come and go. They get deleted as we clean out our inbox. Handwritten letters tend to be kept. If they are especially meaningful they are often tied with a ribbon and kept in a box. Years later they could even be discovered by someone other than the intended receiver.

Back in the 1950s many of us had pen pals from another country. This exchange of letters started through school projects. My pen pal was from Ireland and we told each other what we were learning in school, the games we played, the books we liked, etc. We sent pictures and postcards to one another. It was pretty exciting to come home from school and find a letter addressed to me.

As a youngster I kept in touch with relatives who lived out of state. They wrote to me on a regular basis. They wanted to hear all about school and the activities I was involved in. As I got older our topics of conversation changed, but the letters continued until they passed away.

Don’t get me wrong—I love my computer, but it has made me appreciate the effort that goes into a handwritten letter. Typing words that appear on a computer monitor seem impersonal compared to a piece of stationery with unique handwriting, not a chosen “type style” like Arial 12.

There are still a lot of people in the world without a computer. Does that mean they write letters? Probably not! Logic might say to them, “Why sit down and write a letter when I can call someone?” Most people have unlimited calling (not yours truly) so why spend 49 cents to mail a letter? I hear you, but I still feel that a handwritten letter creates a special, as well as an “ever after,” link to another person.

I have only one friend, Peggy, who does not have a computer, and when I see a letter from her in my mailbox it makes me think of life the way it used to be. I am happy to respond back with a handwritten letter. She always thanks me for putting up with her lack of interest in computers. However, her children and grandchildren are totally befuddled by her stubbornness and call her instead of writing. So I am not sure she is winning that “battle.”

I remember in my college days, there was a large mail sorting area with individual mailboxes for students. Most of us congregated by that area and watched as the mail was sorted. We were thrilled to see a letter tossed into our box. Granted, we were a lot more excited if that letter contained money from our parents!

Many romances were stoked by letters when college students were separated for the summer. Promises to write to one another frequently were usually kept. Our mailboxes were not empty. I remember a friend reading a letter from her boyfriend as she drove. It was propped up against the steering wheel. That ranks right up there with texting and reading emails as we drive today. I told my friend to wait until we got to the beach to finish reading the letter, and she did. Guess my common sense wasn’t absent all the time!

As I become more involved in freelance writing, I often find myself at the Rutland Historical Society. One assignment involved life in Rutland during WWII. The highlight of my research involved some letters that had been given to the society. They belonged to a woman who kept the letters from her boyfriend while he fought in the war. The letters provided first-hand information about the effects of the war, both here and out of the country. That type of connection to history is lost when communication is through emails and texts. The odds that online exchanges will be printed and saved are slim to none.

Is it possible that some day a child will have no idea how to pick up a pen and write a letter? That could certainly be the case.

As I look back, I cherish the memories of writing and receiving letters over the years. If my friend who is “holding out” ever gets a computer, my mailbox will hold strictly bills, catalogs and requests for donations. Now what fun would that be?

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