Summertime and vacations equal lots of posts on Facebook. Does anyone still send postcards from faraway places with strange sounding names? Or, you know the regional ones, such as beach photos with the words, “Ocean City, Maryland” scrawled across the front?
When I was a girl, one of the best parts of my vacation was sending out postcards to my friends with descriptions of what I was doing and wishing they “were here.” As a matter of fact, I continued to send cards during my adult life, though I don’t remember when I stopped. Obviously, technology provided a quicker way to communicate.
And so begins my wistful yearning for the longer version of postcards — letters.
Does anyone still write letters? Recently, I was happily surprised to find a handwritten one in my mailbox. It was sent to me by a young friend who joined the military in May. His words described his experience and his letter was short, but I stashed it away, perhaps to read at another time when we can reminisce about his first adult step after graduating from high school.
Letters have always been a recording of history. Long before typewriters, computers and smartphones, historical figures, such as John and Abigail Adams — who communicated during the president’s long absences tending to governmental matters in Europe — have relied on letters. Their writings, having included Abigail’s daily life taking care of their farm, as well as John’s interaction with our European allies, were included in a Pulitzer Prize winning book, “John Adams,” by David McCullough.
Wars have always produced letters from soldiers. A visit to Gettysburg will provide hundreds of letters written by men in combat, describing the war and their homesickness.
As I mentioned in a past column, the discovery of a letter written by my father to my mother during World War II is invaluable to me. It was the only one found that originally was in a bundle of correspondence that is lost. My father’s words reveal his concern about my mother “working and minding the baby when you should be resting.”
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My husband’s grandmother had saved a letter I had written to her which was given to me when she passed away at the age of 92. At the time, my children were young and I was describing their activities and our busy life — nothing of great significance, but apparently special to her, evidenced by her having saved it. Reading my words recently, it was interesting to re-live my busy life during the ‘70s when my 9-year-old son was playing flag football and his 7-year-old sister was cheerleading his team.
Despite our frenetic society, Christmas is still a letter-writing time — maybe not handwritten ones, but computer printed tomes of what is happening in my friends’ lives. I enjoy those letters that are intended to inform us of things that have occurred in their families during the past year.
Today, I’m guilty of no longer writing letters by hand. But I don’t think that’s a bad thing. When I answered my young friend’s letter, I used the computer to print out my words, a more legible means for him to read, especially since the school system has spent limited time teaching cursive. (He printed his letter by hand, having had no access to a computer.) For me, typing is much easier and faster.
Unlike yesteryear’s postcards, I wonder about the impact of today’s use of limited words, via text messages, tweets, Facebook, Instagram or whatever other means exist to communicate briefly. As most of us have observed, some words written quickly and without thought can be misleading and too often, hurtful.
Better, I believe, to take the time — be it at a desk or computer — to write to that special someone that could be a relative or a friend. It might even be relaxing — especially on a rainy or snowy day — to form words to inquire about an old friend. Ask him or her about activities, careers, family and all of the things you would like to know, because, after all, you care. Then you can relay news about what’s going on in your life.
The experience can be quieting, away from the demands of a busy life. Relax, write, and enjoy. In return, you may even find a letter in your mailbox.
Dolly Merritt’s Prime column appears the third Sunday each month in Life & Times.