The lost art of letter-writing

I have just spent the last couple of hours reading through letters my late mother saved over the years. Letters from her parents, her sisters, her brothers, cards and notes from nieces and nephews and children and even one old card from her grandmother.

And I started thinking about how we seem to have lost the art of letter-writing in this day and age of the telephone and the computer and what that may mean in terms of history lost.

There is so much in those letters which is folksy and mundane… one day my grandmother wrote that she loved vegetables in their season but felt that the tomatos that year had had all too long a season (and then noting in a parenthetical that the fact that she had canned 90 quarts of tomatos the day before might have something to do with her attitude). There’s quite a bit that’s silly (my grandfather complaining that he was “disgustingly sober” since my grandmother had taken to hiding his “little bottle”). And even some that’s catty (certain of the ex-wives of certain of my uncles were definitely not popular…)

But there is so much there as well that tells private stories of grace and courage and generosity and wisdom. I am particularly awed by letters in 1967-68 from my mother’s eldest sister, my aunt Cladyne, as her husband, my uncle Barrett, descended further and further from an inoperable brain tumor and as she then learned to live without him. Her courage and her grace are in no way diminished by the pain and anguish that comes through in those letters. I have always known she was an amazing lady. I am all the more amazed as I have the opportunity to know more of her though the medium of these letters.

And it makes me wonder just what our children will know of us in the years and generations to come. Will they know of our triumphs and achievements, of our crises and pain, of our courage and our drudgery… or will they see nothing more than a few snippets in the Internet shorthand of “how r u 2day?” I hope it’s the former and, who knows…? maybe it will be in part the blogs like this that create a different kind of record to be passed on and learned from…

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