I believe in the enduring qualities of a handwritten letter. We are in the process of a huge move. In starting to tackle the mess in our garage, I saw my old box of letters. I had not looked at that box in at least eight or nine years. I decided to just chuck it all away without looking at any of them. There were hundreds of them from various stages of my life, but there was too much to read and too many memories to recapture. I was determined to stick to my plan of dumping it all when I saw a letter from my grandmother. I didn’t need to open the envelope to see who it was from. There it was, her distinctive hand addressed to me. I took it out of the box and put it aside. I picked up another one from my mother. It was loving advice about a boyfriend I had whom she didn’t like. Her advice was gentle and kind. I was delightfully surprised at rediscovering what a good letter writer she was. These days it’s not always easy to recall a time when she was so efficient and organized, but here in my hand were her graceful words.
Later that night, I sat down with my box again. A glimpse of handwriting told me who it was from. The handwriting brought back the very essence of the person: the elderly English woman who was a friend of our family’s, with her dots and dashes and hasty slant; the elegant personality of my German Italian friend whose handwriting is so beautiful I still try, and fail, to imitate her style; an acting friend whose handwriting is drama itself – enormous loops and curves, the very alphabet dancing an arabesque. There was an enormous variety of paper, softened after all these years, and an envelope from Prague with stamps so huge and colorful they begged to be framed.
I decided, in the end, not to throw them away. I looked at every letter and put aside those which had significant meaning. I put them all in a shoe box. But it looked so drab, nothing like the riches it contained. That’s when I decided to decorate it with the letters that I hadn’t set aside, the ones that I planned to discard. I began looking for sentences, opening liners that were priceless, a line that made me laugh. I made my box into a beautiful thing. Now, I want to make more boxes. I can’t throw away any of my letters because I’ve discovered they are a thing of beauty.
In this age of the anonymous look of an e-mail, my sons will probably never delight in the unexpected pleasure of finding an old box of handwritten letters sent to them. That is why I will teach them to write letters by hand. And when I am thinking about a person and feel inspired to sit down with pen and paper, I’ll do it.
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