I can’t remember the last time I wrote a real letter. I write novels so one would think that letter-writing would be embedded in my DNA. I’m dating myself but I actually remember having a class called Penmanship. When I was in elementary school book reports and themes were written long-hand in cursive. Communication with family or friends who lived in a different city or state was done mostly by writing letters. Only occasionally, even when I was in college, did I make a long distance phone call. That was reserved for emergencies.
Like almost everyone in today’s busy world, however, I‘m part of the problem. I type my novels on a computer and I e-mail. I do write thank-you notes when appropriate, and I send cards for various occasions often including a sentence or two if the person is special to me and I haven’t found the right card. More often than not, I just sign my name. But I have saved letters or rather, my mother saved letters and cards and I inherited them.
Prior to my selling my New Jersey home several years ago, I had to go through the mountain of boxes and paraphernalia that had accumulated in our attic over the many years that we had lived there. In a little black suitcase that I’d taken from my mother’s apartment after her death, I discovered a treasure trove of letters, photographs, and cards for all occasions. Some were letters my siblings and I had written to her from wherever we found ourselves—camp, college, or in later years, Europe. A few were from my children. But the most poignant for me were the letters and cards that my father had sent or given my mother both before and after they were married. Theirs was a love story that ended far too soon.
My father died when I was fourteen so my memory of him has dimmed. I do recall that after his death, people referred to him not only as a gentleman, but as a gentle man. These letters have given me insight into the father that I, as an adult, never had the chance to know, but I now know where my love of writing came from. They say that one person in a relationship always loves a little more than the other which may or may not be true. But in the case of my parents I believe it was my father, or at least he had the greater ability to put his feelings into words. Every card to my mother had a loving note or poem appended and this was true until the day he died.
In one letter in their “courting” days he wrote of his attempt to give up smoking, an inconsequential example perhaps, but I’m sure he was doing it to please my mother because in those years the public had not been made aware of the dangers of smoking. (I know how she felt about the habit, though, because she brainwashed my sister and me into believing that women who smoked look like dragons!) Sadly, as disciplined as my dad was, he never succeeded in quitting. He smoked all of his life which undoubtedly contributed to his early death of a heart attack.
And I may be wrong about who loved who more. My mother was a beautiful woman but she never remarried. She wasn’t an easy person to please and that may have been a factor, but I believe the bar had been set too high. No man was ever going to fill my father’s shoes.
We are all individuals but there’s much, along with our physical appearance and talents that I believe we inherit from our parents. In the process of my cleaning out closets, I found a small box on the top shelf of the closet in my bedroom. I’m rather embarrassed to admit that I hadn’t looked on that shelf (or attempted to dust it) since we had bought the house when my children were small. To my surprise, it contained photos and letters from my high school days. In it were twenty very moving letters from a young man I’d met at a house party at Cornell where my sister went to college. We’d dated on and off for several months before I went off to college in Pittsburgh and he went into the military.
Life is funny. Was I destined to find those letters after so many years? What unseen hand had led me to that box? Why didn’t I just toss it? All I can tell you is that today I am living in California and I’m living with this man. I also plan to write letters again. Not often and not to just anyone but I’m sure I must have something memorable to say that’s worth my children getting teary over when I’m gone in the way far off distant future. Or maybe not. Maybe I’ll just write something wonderful on their birthday cards.
Note: This guest blog originally appeared on May 9, 2013 on The Perseverance Press Authors’ Blog, Get It Write.