Back in the day, I wrote letters to my parents while I was away at camp or college or summer jobs and after I was married. I discovered a few years ago that Mother saved many of my letters. The letters were filled with details of things I had long since forgotten — providing valuable information for my memoir. In turn, my parents also wrote to me, though I regret I saved few of them. We wrote everything in letters, putting pen to paper, every week.
My parents also wrote letters to each other, during their courtship from 1936 to1939. They lived less than 100 miles apart but neither of them had a car. They relied on the bus or train for weekends together. And due to the cost of long distance calls, phone chats never happened.
Then my dad moved nearly 1000 miles away for a new job. Their engagement was announced shortly before he left. They were apart for four months and the longer they were separated the longer the letters became. Pages and pages and pages, front and back, written with a fountain pen.
For most of my life I knew the letters were safely stashed in a steamer trunk, buried beneath her wedding dress and other vintage clothing. The letters came to my house when Mother relocated after Dad’s death. They remained untouched until years after Mother died.
I’ve spent the last six months reading their 300 letters, all in their original envelopes, complete with postmarks and stamps (3¢ for first class, 6¢ for air mail, 10¢ for special delivery). The amazing part is that both my parents saved all the letters they received, so their courtship story is nearly complete. They wrote of their work, their families, moonlit nights, the beach, their growing love, movies and concerts, boarding houses, rent, medical issues, every detail of their upcoming wedding, and their frustrations and hopes and dreams.
Three hundred letters in a box are just letters in a box. The reading is tedious, even though the handwriting is neat and legible. I’m typing them to make them accessible to my brothers and their children and grandchildren. I envision them sitting someplace private and becoming lost in the life that belonged to our parents long before we were born — just as Mother sat and read the letters again after Dad’s death. She needed to hear again his words of love and commitment written fifty years earlier.
I’ve been pondering during these months of letter reading and I wonder — what record of our lives will be left for our children and grandchildren? They only emails and texts that disappear with the push of the delete button and phone calls that vanish with the wind.
Writing letters takes time and effort — time and effort that tells the receiver they are worthy of your words on paper, folded, enveloped, stamped and mailed. Words they may need to hear again, long after they were written.
Until next Tuesday . . .