Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Faithfully Yours: A Life in Letters

"To send a letter is a good way to go somewhere without moving anything but your heart." -- Phyllis Theroux

My grandmother recently surprised the family by returning all the letters we have written to her over the years. I was astonished to learn that for more than 40 years, Grandma saved every piece of personal correspondence in its original stamped envelope!

My mother was the most faithful pen pal, usually writing her at least once a week. Now returned to her, these letters chronicle our family's life from her courtship with my dad, through their early days of marriage, to the years of child raising and beyond. What an unexpected gift it has been to glimpse snapshots of years past through her own handwriting, reliving many long-forgotten events of days gone by through personal observations and newsy tidbits.

Although fewer in number, my own letters take me back to my youth. From my first preschool drawings of rainbows to the notes I penned when the children were babies, I have enjoyed the nostalgic journey rereading this correspondence has brought. Why, even seeing old stationery and address labels opens a floodgate of memories! I remember sitting at the kitchen table as a kindergartner laboriously printing thank you notes on the now-yellowed lined paper with cartoon animals in the corner. I giggle and roll my eyes at my fat, loopy adolescent handwriting -- I's dotted with hearts, of course -- penned on notebook paper folded like origami. Then in my more familiar grown-up handwriting, I reread floral postcards jotted hastily from my college dorm room; embossed ivory monogrammed note cards penned in my apartment as a newlywed; and teacup-themed stationery written in a quiet spot in our house while little ones slept nearby. Bundled together, all these letters tell the story of my journey to womanhood. I'm so grateful that my grandmother felt that was a story worth preserving.

Receiving this treasury of letters has reminded me how precious personal correspondence is. "We lay aside letters never to read them again, and at last we destroy them out of discretion," Johann Wolfgang von Goethe lamented, "and so disappears the most beautiful, the most immediate breath of life, irrecoverable for ourselves and for others." I am now determined to keep my children's letters so that years from now, they can read through their life in letters, knowing that each word, memory and sentiment shared was savored and cherished by a mother who was, in closing, sincerely theirs.

11 comments:

Anonymous said...

Hi Melissa,
What a beautiful post! For many years I have saved correspondence from family and friends, including annual Christmas cards and Birthday cards. I treasure every saved letter and card from my Mother and Grandmother and other loved ones and wish that I had written more often to them. My Mother had the most beautiful handwriting and I love looking at and re-reading her correspondence. One of my high school friends passed away a few years ago and I have thought of gathering up her Christmas cards with her letters to send to her children. Now with the computer and emails unfortunately handwritten letters are becoming a thing of the past. Have a wonderful day!

Teacup Lady (Sandy)

Paula said...

What a precious gift from your grandmother. I have never given it any thought before, but I will certainly keep any future letters from my children (who are, granted, all too young to write at the moment!)

Love Being a Nonny said...

I too save the cards from family and very close friends.

What a treasure you have in those letters AND in a precious grandmother who cared!

Anonymous said...

Melissa,
I enjoy your blog. It is so beautiful! Your family, photos and heart are so lovely. :) Would love to see inside your home if you would consider sharing.
My daughter and I began a back to school tea party last year when she entered Kindergarten. I served...bagel bites and store bought cookies with icing inside. Not as creative as you. I would love some simple recipes for this year. (she goes to school Monday, August 3rd) :( If you get a chance please post simple ideas to make it special. Thank you for all of your lovliness.
Jess

Elise said...

How wonderful Melissa ! One of my greatest regrets is throwing away some precious letters I received from a terminally ill friend in my youth, when I was moving house and having a clear out. I wish I had given them all to his mother, who I think would have gained much comfort from them. Such a waste and I never throw letters away now !

Mary Beth said...

What a wonderful gift! And there is nothing like handwritten letters. What a treasure! I recently found (in this past year) letters that my grandparents wrote each other during their courtship. There were dozens of them. It was amazing to read these handwritten letters expressing their love and adoration for each other from the 1930's! I treasure them more than anything.
I know your family will cherish these letters forever. What a beautiful post.... thanks for sharing.

Rach said...

How wonderful. It's a shame more people dont write letters today. With the telepone and internet people dont see the real meaning anymore. Thanks for opening my eyes.

Melissa Lester said...

Wow, Jess, school starts early for your daughter! I'm afraid I may not get a post together in time for the first day, but I will try to work up something soon. For back-to-school celebrations, I would suggest using apples as a central theme. I have some fun ideas, so will try to work up some recipes and ideas really soon. Thanks for your comment!

Life With a Little Spice said...

Vey endearing and meaningful
Something that needs to come back to the 21st. century.

I enjoy your blog and all your photos, along w. your ideas, now I know where you pick up on some of your endearing foundation - from your grandmother! God Bless all your sweet endeavors.

Shanna said...

I've been saving letters, cards, thank you notes, etc. for years. They are boxed and stored here and there around the house. I've thought once in a while about returning some to their senders at a future day, but I may be too selfish as I get caught up in reading them again and enjoying all the sweet sentiments they contain.

Karin @ 6ByHisDesign said...

how beautiful, Melissa! I'll treasure up this idea and see what I can do with it one day ...
Karin

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