The Lost Art of Letter Writing

So many days you passed me by
See the tears standin’ in my eyes
You didn’t stop to make me feel better
By leavin’ me a card or a letter
(Mister Postman)
Please Mister Postman, look and see
(Oh yeah)
If there’s a letter in your bag for me
The Marvelettes

Over the past six weeks, while recovering from my bilateral mastectomy, I’ve become addicted to Home and Garden TV (HGTV) and I’ve watched a lot of movies. Last week I watched the movie Safe Haven.

Safe Haven is a cute, predictable story of a girl trying to escape a violent husband, takes refuge in a cute little small town, meets new guy (who is mourning the loss of his wife) and falls in love, they break up then reunite, and the angry husband finds her, tries to kill her and ends up dead.

There were, however, two redeeming qualities. First, Josh Duhamel is easy on the eyes, and second, I loved the letter he gives her at the end of the movie from his dead wife telling the new girl that she approves of their relationship.

It wasn’t what the letter said that I loved, it was the letter itself. A real letter, hand-written on cream-colored stationary. Turns out, the dead wife wrote lots of them before she died – for her husband and each of her children. If I knew I was going to die, I’d do the exact same thing.

Since watching the movie I’ve begun to feel nostalgic about the olden days, about the letters we wrote to distant friends, relatives and pen-pals (someone who lived in a foreign country – you found them listed in Tiger Beat magazine – mine lived in Africa). It was how we communicated back then, and a letter really meant something. Seeing the person’s handwriting scrawled onto the page, you could just picture them sitting at their desk, pen in one hand and your recent letter in the other, as they crafted their responses to your questions and shared all the latest news.

For those of you under the age of 30, this is probably a foreign concept (unless your great, great, great grandmother is still alive), but picture this: Your mother drives you to the store to pick out your very own stationary. The store has a distinct smell about it—like the smell of handouts in grade school that came straight off the mimeograph machine—only different. The shelves are stocked with thick, crisp pages that come in pale blue, pink or green, or just a simple cream. And there are envelopes to match.

After making your selection, you race home and carefully craft a letter to your grandmother in Cleveland that might look something like this:

Dear Grandma,

How are you? I am fine. School is going good. My favorite subject is math. I got 100% on my last test!

Our dog Pretzel had puppies last week. Three of them. They are real cute. I want to keep one but Mom says no.

Well, I have to go now. Write soon!


After writing the letter, you fold it in half, slip it into the envelope and lick it shut. After addressing the envelope and slapping on a stamp, you run down to the corner, pull open the slot of the Big Blue Box (also known as a Mail Box), drop your letter in and let go of the handle. Then you pull open the slot again just to make sure that your letter actually descended into the belly of the box.

Photo courtesy of Google Images.
Photo courtesy of Google Images.

And then you do the math. You know it will take three days before Grandma gets the letter, and three more for the return delivery plus a day or two for recipient to write a reply.

A week later you begin stalking the mailman until he rewards you with a letter. You fly up the stairs, slam your bedroom door shut, hop onto your bed and slowly peel open the flap. Then you pull out the letter and smell it (sometimes Grandma sprays perfume on the letter). You read it, twice, and your lips curl upward. You might not even like your Grandma that much, but that matters not at all. The letter is special, because it was written just for you.

Why, you might ask, wouldn’t I just pick up the phone (the kind that hung on the wall and had a cord) and call Grandma instead? Good question. The answer is that a 10 minute long-distance phone call when I was growing up cost about as much a brand spanking new Buick. Okay, I’m probably exaggerating just a wee bit, but you get the point.

I miss a lot about the olden days, and getting letters in the mail ranks right up there. I miss the feel and smell of the thick, pale pink stationary (my favorite), I miss the trips to the mail box, and I miss stalking the mailman.  I miss how special I felt every time I got a letter. Even the one’s from Grandma.

What do you miss most from your childhood?

I love hearing from you. And to prove it, for every comment you leave, you’ll be entered into a drawing. At the end of the month, I will draw a lucky winner who will receive a $10 gift card (your choice, Amazon, Starbucks or iTunes). Winners will be announced in the first post of the following month.

10 comments on… “The Lost Art of Letter Writing”

  1. Great post. There is nothing like a handwritten letter or even a little note. I am most distressed that cursive is not really taught in schools anymore and everyone thinks that dashing off an e-mail is the same as taking the time to take out nice white heavy stock paper, a gel pen, write, buy a stamp, and mail. I still have some of the handwritten letters written to me by my aunt (long gone) and they mean so much to me. (Must write a letter to my niece today!)

  2. Melissa Lewicki

    I have saved hundreds of letters that my family and friends have sent me over the years. A couple of years ago my dad gave me a great gift: all the letters I had written to him as a child. My parents were divorced and Dad and I kept in touch by letter. He had saved all of mine.
    Wonderful post.

    • How wonderful, Melissa. He gave you back a part of yourself. I have every card my mother has ever given me and I put them in their own special scrap book. Just an idea.

  3. Waving hand wildly. I am one of those oldies who still hand writes a letter or thank you note. I had 41 foreign pen friends – starting in 1989 and up to today with several of the same friends. A couple of weeks ago we were in Wisconsin for my hubby’s class reunion. Several people were so kind that when we got home I wrote out five thank you notes and mailed them. Believe it or not, I got a phone call from one of the men thanking me for the thank you note. My sister in law was stunned to receive theirs. I thought HOW SAD that those kindnesses are gone now. I don’t think a text thank you note would have had the same affect.

    Huggles, Suzanne.

    • I still send hand-written thank you notes and cards. In fact, just mailed off 2 birthday cards and 3 thank you notes today. Love getting them, too, though it happens so rarely. I must say, though, I’ve sure received a lot of cards in the mail during my recuperation. Every one of them made my day. *hugs*

  4. Great topic. I have my daughter write thank-you notes when she receives special gifts because I think it’s important; but I no longer have anyone in my life who I actually write to. It was my adopted grandmother (who is now 98) who I used to write to back and forth because she never used a computer. She used a typewriter when her handwriting became difficult to read and we wrote back and forth for years. I’m so thankful for her letters now because she has Alzheimer’s and they reflect a time when she was vibrant and full of life. It’s amazing the history they hold. I have probably 1,000s of emails stored on Yahoo and they certainly don’t have the same impact.

  5. P. D. (Debbie) Hurst

    My 19 year old, Marie, has taken up the now-seemingly-ancient art of letter writing. She corresponds with a couple of friends via mail, often with 15- to 20-page letters. She has a busy life, but she loves getting and sending letters. Also, Suzanne, you are a beautiful blogger (that is, I really enjoy reading your blog!).

  6. I love your POV on this subject. I think the “new” letter is the greeting card. I bought a blank one today, pretty with a bicycle and flowers on it to send a poem to my grieving Mother in-law. It’s a poem that my mother (or perhaps it was my father) placed on the wall of my childhood bedroom. It’s brought a lot of comfort to me over the years so I plan to share it with her. To answer your question, Suz, I think I miss crisp bed sheets we tucked into on summer nights, fresh from the bath, still itchy from playing in the yard, fluffy pillows to cradle our sleepy heads. And poems placed just so that we could see them from our beds and feel loved always!

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