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.

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