I pulled the box down from the shelf carefully, not wanting to spill its contents. Although not fragile, the things inside still regarded as some of my most cherished possessions.
I carefully removed the lid and gently touched the envelope on top. Despite being yellowed with age I immediately recognized my Aunt Tillie’s beautiful handwriting. “My Dearest Lisha,” the letter began, and in it she reminisced about the letters we had exchanged, how they began with large, block print of my childhood and continued without interruption until the most recent envelope arrived – with my wedding invitation.
There were letters from my cousin Karen in Mississippi, and from my friend April, with whom I spent countless summer days. There were cards and notes from the students I shared a summer semester with in Quebec, and volumes from my sweet friend Jane that spanned years.
There were a few letters dated 1972, from my sister’s husband, who was serving in Vietnam. He reminded me to “stay sweet,” and “write him often, because my letters meant a lot” to him. His obviously meant a great deal to me, too.
They were all special, because I had kept every one of them.
There was a group tied with a ribbon, written by a guy I met in college who had joined the Army, and spent summers away at training. Some sweet, some funny – one entire postcard filled with fish puns was my favorite.
I wondered for a moment why I had kept them. Surely at the time I didn’t have the foresight to know I’d treasure them one day. There had to have been something in me, even at that age that understood the power of words.
I thought about the lost art of letter-writing, and how my children will never have a box of letters on colorful stationary, written in beautiful script. They each have a few from me, written on special occasions or as part of a retreat. But this kind of box, my original inbox, is a thing of the past.
When I was twelve, my teacher asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up.
Without hesitation, I answered. “A writer.”
I guess I didn’t realize I already was.
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I have a similar inbox, which I got to thinking about yesterday when my brother surprised me with a short birthday email. Unlike his sisters, he’s never been a writer, so that I cherish each word he shares.
The summer I spent at Orcalab, my mom forced him to write me two letters. They were both very short letters about how he was being forced to write, but hoped I had a good summer anyway. He added a couple of terrible doodles to make the pages look fuller.
Even though the letters don’t say much, they’re written in his hand, and they very, very much reflected who he was. Having said goodbye to both my mom and my Grampa G, both of whom sent me several letters because I pestered them with letters while away, I am now profoundly grateful for each letter I shipped everywhere I moved. Most of the stuff in my life is replaceable, but these letters are a tangible connection to the past. I hold them and I hold a tiny piece of their sender from that moment in time.
Email will never compare.
Nothing compares to something touched by hand. I found a note my dad wrote when to me when he and I worked in the same field for a while. Seeing my name written in his had was like a warm blanket wrapped around me. You’re right, email will never compare.
A truer tale was never told. I miss getting letters from my pen pals where they’d speak of their emotions and life struggles, now it’s all digital abbreviations and emoticons to replace the emotions in the words. Thanks, Lisha.
Even when I communicate electronically, I spell every word and use punctuation. I do use smileys, but the old-timely kind with colons and parentheses. So my reader will know I’m smiling, because I really like smiling.
My estranged sister just sent me a letter she found that my Papa had written to me when I was 14. My Papa did not get past an 8th grade education, and rarely wrote anything because he was embarrassed of his spelling. I remembered having difficulty reading it the first time, but managed to work out what he had written. 25 years later, I easily remembered, and could still read, what he had written to me. An admonishment to raise my grades so that I could visit with him in the summer.
Despite the estrangement, my sister knew this was a letter that meant a lot to me, and I could not have because of the family estrangement (it was at my parents house). She knew how much I would value being able to put this dearly loved letter into my own box. She was so right, and I am glad that her heart was open enough to me to send on the letter.
Thank you for this post, Lisha. It makes me want to open up my own letter box and reread my letters!
I’m so glad you got your Papa’s letter back. I understand more than you know, as I’ve been estranged from my sister for most of my life. I hope that letter can make you feel connected to them in a loving way.
Some of my prized possessions are cards and letters from the past it always leaves a heart warming feeling to revisit them. Thanks for sharing Lisha hands down you always have my vote.
Thank you for the kind words, Pam. You should pull out a pen and write a few letters. You have so many friends who would live to have a letter in their mailbox!
I miss the days of letter writing and receiving them. I have a couple of writer friends who still do send me notes and I’m so glad. I keep my letters too and wish my kids could someday experience the joy of rereading letters from old friends.
I dropped two letters in the mail today. I smiled as I thought of the “squeee!” that will come when my friends open their mailboxes in a few days. Let’s bring back the custom!
I love this for so many reasons. There’s nothing like reading a letter on someone’s own stationery in their own handwriting. I, like you, feel bad that my kids won’t have the same experience of reading an old letter and totally being transported back in time and emotion. Email just doesn’t do it! P.S. So glad you are a writer!
Thank you, Lois! I’m glad, too, for it has brought me here.
I say we start a revolution of hand-written letters. The Hallmark folks will love us! And our kids will thank us (someday).
I am a letter writer. Always have been. I love this because you are too. It’s a lost art/treasure. I keep everything handwritten because of this. Great post!
Thank you so much for the kind words. A few years ago I decided to attempt to resurrect the lost art of letter writing. Something touched by hand, with no spell check or auto correct, showing us as human and unique. Aaah. The philosopher in me comes out when I talk about it!
This is so wonderful for so many reasons…your writing, your treasured box, and the knowledge that you’re doing exactly what you should be. Some of my most favorite things are letters my Dad wrote me in college when I was going through a hard time. Now that he’s gone, they are even more special.
Oh, what a treasure to have! I have so few things that were handwritten by my Dad, that I cherish the ones I do have. This should definitely be something we leave for our children.
I kept all the letters from high school and my pen pals. My mom brought them over in a box and in an odd mood, i thought what the heck will i do with these? And angrilly placed the box next to the garbage outside. The next morning, my wits about me, I ran out….to see a soggy mess. It never rains but we had a freak storm which i had slept through, my notes the victims of the deluge. I do however collect postcards to this day, rekindling the lost art of a handwritten letter. Nice to see I am not the only nostalgic one.
Oh, no. *sigh* One of the saddest things about Katrina were the stories of lost letters and photos. The irreplaceable things that can never be recaptured. I hope you have started a new collection. I’d be happy to write you a letter to add to it, Gem. 🙂
Lovely. Truly. I know one day people will look back on this age of texting and email with some sort of nostalgia but right now this modern communication age almost always feels clinical and detached. A computer font holds none of those little writing quirks that add to the humanity of an actual hand-written letter. We will have to rely on our actual words more…maybe that’s okay too.
Humanity. That’s it exactly. Every stroke of the pen shows so much. We reveal ourselves when we write by hand. And we have to the commit to words we choose. No backspace key to do it over. And I like to think about how happy it made my aunt, or my brother-in-law in Vietnam to receive those letters, because I know how happy it made me to receive theirs.
I used to keep letters, but I fear I went through a phase of decluttering in which I got rid of many of them. I urge you to hold on to your box
Oh, that box will never leave me. When we evacuate for hurricanes, it goes with me. I recently celebrated my 50th birthday, and I bound every card together with a ribbon. The newest addition to the box.
When my father was a boy in boarding school, my grandfather, an artist illustrated a series of post cards and mailed them regularly. My brothers and I have several each framed and we cherish them. This was such a wonderful nostalgic post.
What a treasure! They were touched by both your father and grandfather! I love these things that connect us to our past. I hope they are cherished in your family for generations to come. Thanks for stopping by and sharing.
I still have boxes of letters too! I haven’t looked at them in probably a decade. I need to dedicate some time to do that!
Don’t put it off. A few years ago, I was grabbing that box to take with me on a hurricane evacuation, and found bugs in it. (I think it was the glue from the old stamps that attracted them. Anyway…) They need occasional maintenance, so take a peek. But have some tissues ready, and enough time to touch every one. Because you won’t be able to stop once you start.
Thanks for stopping by, Nina! And I think Miri is a precious name.
Good to know about the bugs/glue!!! Yikes!
I loved this too. I have a box of letters my grandma gave me that my dad wrote to her when he was serving in Korea. I love sitting there reading them and reminiscing of him with pen in hand. Thanks for the memories today. I think I am going to get that box out and look at those letters again.
I understand. I actually have a box of letters that my grandfather wrote to my grandmother when they were courting in the early 1900s. Each one begins with “My Dearest Girl.” My mom wouldn’t read them when she was alive, because she said it felt invasive. But I’m going to read them one day. My grandmother kept them for the same reason I kept mine.
I still have a box of letters up in the closet. It makes me sad to think future generations won’t know that quiet joy.
The way to make them know it is to write to them. I say we bring back the custom! One letter at a time. Thanks for stopping by, Natalie.
You are a writer my friend. Excellent story. Memories are best kept in a box to be read later in years.
Thank you, Anonymous. Although I think I know who you are. 😉
I, too, have a box of letters. Mine, however, are bundled and sit in a box among various other memorabilia from my youth. In that box, there are yearbooks, a first gift from a boy, small trinkets I felt “too special” to let go of, and letters from siblings, old “flames”, faraway pen-pals, and the dearest bundle, from my friend of 45 years. Each item/bundle is a reflection of me, at various stages in life, and each is the start of a story of long ago.
Love this post! Thank you for sharing your box and encouraging me to spend some time with my own box of memories.
I’ve been in a kind of existential transformation lately. Thinking about this whole writing thing. So the epiphany that day that I’ve been a writer all along was mind-shattering for me. It’s time I started calling myself one.
I remember my box of old letters, from pen pals far away, from relatives, and from friends who were nearby. I have one now, but it’s mostly filled with birthday, Valentine’s Day, and anniversary cards. It’s not the same. Some of mine survived, but not many. Love this post. I feel nostalgic reading it.
My box evacuates with me. And I have a stash of giant ziploc bags for mementos like this that must be left behind. I’m so sorry you lost your letters. *sigh*
They are some of the things I miss most because they can’t be replaced.