We open the mailbox most days to a pile of circulars and bills. The closest we get to personal letters are invitations to fundraising events and an occasional wedding announcement. Sometimes I am tricked. The envelope looks hand-written. A real stamp is affixed to the top corner, a little crooked. But it’s just a sales pitch from a car salesman or a financial planner who wants to buy us dinner at the local steakhouse.
I’m guilty. I don’t hand-write, stamp and mail letters either. I guess I should lower my expectations. But I do have two very special letter writing pen pals.
My good friend, Janice Williams recognizes the value of archiving our lives through correspondence. She is a geneaologist (why does that word insist on autocorrecting to gynocologist?) and has connected with family members all over the country and collected their stories. She has even written a book about the Cunningham Family that is so good, people outside of the family want to read their story. She had names and vital statistics, but she dug deeper. Found pictures and letters, and learned the stories of her ancestors. How would she have done this without old letters bundled and tied with string. How will our generation be remembered?
The internet seems to be the answer to everything. So the information superhighway will probably take care of our birth and death stats, marriage licenses and other legal documents. Most likely, handwritten letters will go the way of the quill and ink well. Are we really hearing arguments about whether or not to teach cursive to school children? Who needs it?
A sidebar here: No Cursive? How our grandchildren to read such great works as the Declaration of Independence? How will they read signatures? How will they understand the phrase, “Put your John Hancock right here…” How will they…. Oh. Not to worry. There will be a New Way. It will be better.
Back to Letters.
Janice and I write email letters back and forth with fair regularity. She is one
of my best friends. We live 30 miles apart and make a point of seeing one another at least three or four times a year. And we always
say we are going to do this more often.Time and life get in the way of those plans, but we stay connected. We don’t depend on those visits to keep us up to date. We know what is going on in our day-to-day lives by way of letters. Janice is a great writer. We push one another to write more – not just letters, but blogs and magazine articles and just everyday stories waiting to be told. We know our current prescriptions and latest diet plan and favorite new wine, and share the ordinary days in our lives. While the letters are not necessarily filled with earth-shattering news, they touch us. Connect us. And bring us joy. Sometimes, one of us or the other will j
ust send a quick note: I owe you a letter! so that we know to expect something soon. It’s better than The check is in the mail.
My other pen pal is my son, Sterling. He lives about ten miles from me, in the same town. Henry David Thoreau wrote, “I have traveled a good deal in Concord.” Like David, Sterling has traveled much in Central Texas. He has a good eye for seeing things the rest of us might miss. He has a wonderful knack for storytelling, and a beautiful way with words. We don’t write to one another about the weather or the latest headlines. Mostly, lately, we write about the great people, stories, writers, teachers, moments in our lives – and one another. We might throw in an occasional dream or goal. A theme to our writing? It might be No Regrets.
One of our favorite songs is Kilkelly, Ireland. Written by Steven and Peter Jones, it is the true story of John Hunt, an Irish emigrant to America. The song is based on a box of old letters written between their great-great-grandfather, Brian Hunt, and his son John, their great-grandfather. The father, Brian was illiterate, so the letters were actually written by dictation to the local schoolmaster, Patrick McNamara, a family friend, who mailed them to America. Steven and Peter found the forgotten box of letters in their grandfather’s attic.
I am grateful for boxes of old letters. And for cursive. And for people who like to receive and send letters. And for Janice and for Sterling. My pen pals.
Listening to Kilkelly, Ireland performed by Robbie O’Connell. .