I’ve long held the notion that the art of letter-writing is slipping away, but now I have proof.
It’s a byproduct of cleaning out my mother’s house after her death earlier this year. My sister and I have found collections of photos and letters dating back to the late-1940s.
When speaking, my father tended to choose his words carefully. He never used 10 words when two would do. But with a pen and sheet of paper, he became quite eloquent, as demonstrated in the letters he sent his future wife while they were courting.
Those letters took on a deeper meaning when paired with information my sister said our mother had shared with her during Mom’s final years. I never knew.
Our grandfather’s parenting style was inflexible, with harsh household rules dictating conduct of his children as well as his wife. As a result, our mother grew up with the notion that she would never marry. She went to college convinced that a business degree would allow her to make her own way in the world.
Our father was dating one of her classmates, and the rules of the women’s college the ladies were attending required a third wheel, in a manner of speaking, on dates. Our future mother was the girlfriend’s chaperone when our future father came calling, and he took a liking to the chaperone.
A relationship developed and progressed, but our mother rebuffed several proposals of marriage — even after he visited her home and won the seal of approval from her family, including three brothers. Then, on a park bench at the battery in Charleston, South Carolina, our father announced he would ask once more, and if her answer was no, he would move on. The rest is history.
I have to think Dad’s expressive letters, which were so politely worded, played a role in Mom’s decision to finally accept his marriage proposal.
However, several other, more recent letters — written more than 20 years later — have refreshed old memories for me. Mostly, they are letters from relatives, teachers, parents of classmates, and neighbors that definitely support the notion that the art of letter-writing is endangered, if indeed it’s not already become extinct.
These letters, along with others I had sent my parents while far away in college, had been set aside and left undisturbed for decades. Several handwritten missives went on for several pages, with all sorts of minor details about people, places, and things that were in our lives at the time. A “brief” note, relatively speaking, ran two pages.
I received several on the occasion of my high school graduation in New Mexico. Some of the names are quite familiar, but others I might not have recalled if I had not seen their letters. More than half a century later, their congratulatory messages feel as fresh as they did in 1968. Looking back, those messages are even more appreciated now.
For just a moment, I was back at school — leaving the gymnasium stage holding my diploma and eagerly anticipating where in the world life’s adventures might take me.
Among the letters most treasured are those from my maternal grandmother. Thanks to the return addresses shown, I will be able to tour Charleston, South Carolina, and locate where she had lived — homes I had enjoyed visiting during childhood each summer and Christmas.
Then there’s this. Someone I apparently knew during college sent me a letter one summer with detailed information about the activities she and her brother were enjoying on the Gulf Coast. She devoted a lot of time composing it. It went on for three pages. She even enclosed an address in the Dallas area where her parents were moving, and where I could write.
I’m baffled. I only hope I wrote a letter in reply. I didn’t have many friends named Cindy, and their circumstances don’t mesh with the details that she provided.
If I didn’t write back, please accept my sincere apology, Cindy, wherever you might be.
Gene Deason is editor emeritus of the Brownwood Bulletin. His column appears on Fridays. He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.