The Lost Art of… Letter Writing

by Birdfarm from Flickr

By Ramona Flightner/ @ramonaflightner

I love letters. Those old fashioned, hand-written letters that I used to write with some frequency to close friends. The letters that I still cherish and store in a box to re-read on rainy days.

This weekend while at my aunt’s house for Easter, my aunt told me she had found a letter written by my grandmother and she thought I would like it. I couldn’t wait to read it. My grandmother was a wonderful letter writer. She wrote very detailed letters, allowing the reader to feel like she were there with her.

As I sat down to read my grandma’s letter, I traced her handwriting. It is so familiar, and evokes a sense of well-being. I opened her letter, noting it was not dated. As I read the letter, I tried to piece together the clues and determine when the letter was written. Her descriptions of two days during her and my grandpa’s visit to Montana during Christmas time in the early 1980’s made me laugh and brought back so many memories. Memories of when all three of my grandparents were alive and we would have get-togethers at my house. Memories of sledding marathons with my brother. Memories of horrible winter storms, our cars sliding sideways on our steep driveway and then hours spent digging our cars out of our neighbor’s driveway. Simple, childhood memories, but all precious.

I called my mum, excited to talk with her about the letter and to try to piece together when the letter took place. I also wanted to see if she remembered the events of the letter. It was wonderful laughing and sharing with her, all due to a letter written long ago.

I know in this day and age of e-mail, texting, and twitter, that letters are old fashioned. We are accustomed to the instant update and the instant response. It takes time to write a letter and even longer to receive a response. And yet, there are some things that take more than 160 characters to express.

I wonder what will fill people’s treasure boxes 100 years from now. When we were cleaning out my grandfather’s things, some of his greatest treasures were letters. A precious letter from my great-great grandparents in Ireland nearly 100 years ago. Love letters from my great-great grandparents here in the U.S. 100 years ago. They were windows into the past and into my heritage. I learned about their concerns, their dreams, and politics from the time. I was able to feel a connection to people I had never met, yet had heard so much about. It is something that cannot be emulated in an email or a tweet.

I still write letters every once in a while. Sometimes, after a few paragraphs, I begin to express myself in ways I never would when typing. There is something freeing about writing cursive, as though I am able to tap into deeper emotions or thoughts. I wonder that the next generations will not have that option as cursive becomes more and more rare in the school curriculum.

Do you write letters? Do you have a treasure box of letters?

  • Hi Ramona, I wrote a post about letter writing whilst on the UBC Challenge last year, you may remember it. I also wrote a recent one called a letter to my mum on St Patrick’s Day, who died in 1991. Letters are precious and as you say we can recall memories and they can give us a snapshot in the world of others. I remember finding my fathers love letters to my mother and how beautiful they were. I still have them and keep them in a special place. Thanks for sharing this wonderful post.

    • Hi Athena,
      I do remember your posts on letters. It is amazing the power of a letter. It is wonderful to hear you have your important letters saved in a special place. Thanks for visiting.

  • Like you, I loved writing letters. I still remember my excitement as a child of 10 or 11 when I came across a magazine at the library with a list of pen pals seeking partners. I wrote letters to my German pen pal for years . . . One of those early signs that I had a writer’s heart

    • Hi Carol,
      So great that you had a pen pal! I remember the letters I wrote and received when I lived abroad, and there really is nothing like a letter. Thanks for visiting!

  • A lovely post, Ramona. We’ve learned so much from letters written by our families and their ancestors, as well as people like Abelard and Heloise, Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky and Nadejda von Meck, and Sigmund Freud and Albert Einstein. that it would be a shame to let this method of communication fade. Letter writing not only provides an important look at our past, it also celebrates language.
    Many thanks for reminding us of that!

    • Hi Barbara,
      I wonder where we’d be without those letters from history. Some of my favorite writings have been letters, and it is sad that it is something that is being lost. Thanks for visiting.

  • I also miss letter writing. I send lots of emails–but it seems so transient compared to letters.

    • Hi Sheryl,
      Thanks for visiting. And I agree, emails seem so transient in comparison to letters.

  • I’m a big fan of letter writing. I started writing letters again in the last year or so for the reasons you mentioned. I simply missed it. I have many letters from relatives and friends who have gone on to the great spirit in the sky, and it brings me great comfort and connection when I re-read them. If ever I am in a museum of artifacts, I am always drawn to the letters they might display. I so admire the beautiful handwriting and the often poetic verse. As hard as I try, I still cannot get my script to look as beautiful as nearly everyone seemed to be able to do a century ago. My sister-in-law and I even wrote back and forth to each other last year intentionally ‘speaking’ in the late 1800s style about what we’d done the past week, like taking in something called a ‘movie’ where figures appeared before our very eyes on a tall white sheet they called a ‘screen’, etc. It was quite fun!! :)

An Austin DesignWorks Production