The Lost Art of Letter Writing…

A while back a relative phoned me and asked me what I wanted for Christmas.  At first I thought it was going to be tough to answer.  I told them that my wife and I didn’t really need any ‘stuff’.  We don’t - really.  Finally, I told them that whatever she got it couldn’t be more than $20.00.  She laughed and agreed. 

I read an article recently about Christmas presents and what children remember.  What do I remember most about Christmas as a child?  Not much actually, because it is a really, really, really, really long time ago.  But things that I do remember have a lot more to do with what I was doing and who I was with, as opposed to what I received as a gift.  

From that I thought, what would I really like from anyone?  Some of my children live a long way away and are not much on Facebook and are generally very busy living and making a living.  So, I don’t get a lot of regular news.  What I would really like is news about the more mundane aspects of their lives.  “We went out for coffee and had this and that and the waiter was really nice, complimented me on my child’s manners…”  

And what would be better than a phone call.  A phone call is fleeting.  Once it is over, it is gone.  A letter or a chatty email, I can reread.  It takes a few moments of time and thought.  But it is a physical thing.  Even in the form of an email, I can reread and/or print.  I want to know stupid details.  Tell me how the date bombed.  Tell me how the new recipe that you tried was a disaster.  Good stuff is OK as well.

Social media like Facebook and others seem personal but they are far from it.  Kind of a shotgun "Look at me".    Letters are so much more personal.  

My mother was a master letter writer.  When my siblings and I were quite young, after we were in bed, she would write letters.  Every evening, that is how she would end her day.   Raised four children, worked two jobs, did volunteer work and wrote letters.  Her letters were newsy.  You knew, after reading one of her letters, how her life was going.  They were a peek into a window, into her life.  

My mother’s letter writing skills.  When she was a teenager in High School in Holland, one of the things that all of the students did was get a Pen Pal somewhere in Europe.  My mother got a young man in Denmark.  They wrote each other all through the second world war and continued to do so for 40 years.  

Her mother had passed away late 1970s. She went to Holland for the funeral. While there, she decided to make the short trip to Denmark to visit her grown Pen Pal.  They had never met.  Long story short, within two years they were married and she was on her way to live with him in Denmark.  

He told me an interesting story in the early 1990s when visiting.  She continued to write letters to friends in Canada and around the world.  He told me that she would receive as many as 3-4 letter each day in the mail.  That is personal letters. Each DAY.  

My mother’s letters were so, I don’t know, important?  They compelled you to reply just because they were interesting.  She gave so much of herself you just had to give back.

Here is an excerpt from a letter that she wrote to my family in 1989:

“Thanks for the letter […], it was good to hear from you.  I am sitting outside in the garden writing  to you.  We have had beautiful weather all week, and we hope it will continue, as we are expecting Tina & Geoff […] her on Sunday.  They phoned last Monday to ask, if it was convenient, if they came and of course it is.  So the we're going to book it.  Please read […]’s letter.

It is a good thing to have guests sometimes, we have painted and cleaned and washed windows and all the work in the garden!

And tonight we are having 12 people here for a meeting and I had to bake for this.  So, no dull moments here for sure! Is the baby’s name going to be […] for sure?  I will make him one of those embroideries like I did for the others.

We had 300 people here from all kinds of European countries, they all came to [City].  It had something to do with environment and the future, we will hopefully, have less pollution.  They had a large display in the Town Hall and we talked to some teachers, who came with them, one from Northern Ireland.  

The schools do a lot here too for anti-pollution and you name it.

I hope my new grandchild is doing well and I also hope you are fine, [name].

[name], it was the very best news I heard about you getting [name] ready for High School. Give them an education.

[name] got her Bachelor of Science and she is now taking a summer course together with [name] in business administration. 

Please send some baby announcements, also one to [name] though she is in Holland till July 16.  She phoned last night.  And [name] and [Mrs. name].  They are also in Holland. 

I think of you all so often.  See you in 6 weeks. 

The baby will be smiling then!!

lots of love, 



The first time you write a letter it might take some effort.  The second time, hopefully, somewhat less effort.  But like anything, you will improve and learn how to do it better.  

Just start.

If you have to start with an email to the person you want to write, then do that.  Try not to make too big of a deal about it. Your first actual letter may be scratched out on whatever you have around.  And short.  As you do more, as in anything, you will get better.  Practice.  But don't not send the letter because it's not perfect.  I guarantee the person receiving it will be thrilled nonetheless.   Make sure you have enough stamps, etc, so that you are not having to go to the Post Office every time you want to mail your letter.

As you go, you can use fancy stationary.  This, though is not necessary.  One can increase the aesthetics of letter writing if desired.  But the real important part is the personal communication.  

Another thing that you'll have to get used to with letter writing, though, is the wait.  Write a letter.  One to two weeks for it to get there.  Another few days or so for the person to get to writing you back.  Or maybe a little longer.  A week or two for their letter to travel back to you.  But then, what a treat!



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