Love Letters

tons-of-wwii-era-lettersWhile cleaning out my dad’s storage room four years after he died, I opened a file cabinet drawer and there they were: neat bundles of letters from my grandfather to my father. During my dad’s service in World War II, his father wrote him a letter every single day. My dad was the envy of his buddies, many of whom rarely received mail. More than once, my grandfather wrote to them too, at my dad’s request, so his buddies wouldn’t feel so homesick.


Daddy and Erin at Alnwick Castle when I visited there for a week

My dad was a carbon copy of his father—smart, clever, and kind-hearted. I did my best to carry the torch when my daughter, Erin, flew to England in the spring of 1998 to study abroad for five months at Alnwick Castle, not far from Scotland. Like my grandfather before me, I wrote my cub a letter every single day. Twice, I remember, I was in bed for the night until I was jolted upright by the realization that I hadn’t written her daily letter—so I hopped out of bed and fired up the computer. Erin kept her letters too, just as her grandfather had. And like my grandfather, I wrote to a couple of my daughter’s friends who rarely received mail from home and were feeling homesick.

The power of regular letter writing cannot be overstated. Even if all they consist of is the minutia of everyday life, letters maintain and even strengthen intimacy, no matter how many thousands of miles separate the sender and receiver.

Imagine being away from home for months, or even years. If there was little contact between loved ones, you’d be coming home to a house full of familiar strangers. It would take months to get reacquainted to the point where you knew your loved ones as well as you did before you left. With daily letters, however, there would be no such awkward period. You’d just pick right up where you left off in your last letter.

Of course, e-mail serves much the same purpose in the digital age. It’s amazing how quickly intimacy can be established with a few e-mails here and there. That said, I’d still give handwritten letters the edge. E-mails lack the personal touch that letters convey so well. My mother, who is seventy-seven, refuses to use a computer and keeps a large stock of greeting cards handy for the many friends and relatives she corresponds with through handwritten letters and notes. “I love that Grandma Sandy writes to me often even though I live in the same town,” says my grateful daughter.

elderly-man-writing-a-letterMy father and grandfather (whom my sister and I called Grampo) carried on the tradition of regular letter writing for decades after the war, writing each other at least once a week. I found many of those letters in my father’s belongings as well, and my sister and I look forward to reading every one when we can set aside the time to do so. As my sister said when I called her to tell her about the treasures I found, reading through those weekly letters, filled with comments about the weather, sports teams, laundry, and other mundane topics, will make us feel like we were back with our dad and Grampo again, experiencing the good old days with a new appreciation.

But most of all, we will feel closer, much closer, to our dad and grandfather, both of whom we dearly loved. Through their letters, we can get to know them more deeply through the way they lived their lives and how they expressed themselves. In truth, they weren’t just writing those letters to each other, they were writing them to my sister and me, and to my daughter and her children and her children’s children. What a gift they have left us!

Click here to view all my posts on writing letters and notes to loved ones.

Click here to see all my posts featuring my parents and grandparents.


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8 Responses to “Love Letters”

  1. Rosy V Says:

    Wow! What a wonderful story!!! I recently started writing handwritten letters again. :)

  2. Phil Bolsta Says:

    Thanks, Rosy! My own attempts at handwritten notes goes in stops and starts. I am motivated by your motivation to start again!

  3. Mimi Says:

    My dad passed when I was 14 years old; my parents were divorced since I was 3 years old. My dad wrote to me all the time and we lived in the same state and saw each other often. I at such a young age kept all his letters. Now I’m 43 and have children of my own. These are precious treasures I can share with my daughters and their children and so on.

    I also have a friend who loves to write to my girls. He always puts beautiful stickers all over the envelops and we love them. We’ve kept each one. Each letter is precious.

    Thank you for sharing your story

  4. Phil Bolsta Says:

    I’m very sorry you lost your father at such a young age, Mimi, but I’m glad that you have his letters to remember him by. Just reading one of his letters can bring him back to life, if only for a moment, and that is a precious gift.

  5. Kim Wencl Says:

    When my Dad was 21 and in the Army serving in Korea during the war his aunt wrote to him often. He kept the letters and it was so interesting to be able to read them so many years later. I am a terrible letter writer!! Email is so much easier. Isn’t it great when your child studies abroad? Anna spent Jan-March, 2007 in Costa Rica. We felt it was our duty as parents to go and visit her. Truth is, we were only able to spend one day with her and the rest of the time we toured. It was great though and if she hadn’t been there we NEVER would have gone. I would go back in a heartbeat … it is a wonderful country.

  6. Phil Bolsta Says:

    Yes, those letters really give you a window into your great-aunt’s personality. I imagine you otherwise wouldn’t have known her very well.

  7. Patricia - Spiritual Journey Of A Lightworker Says:

    I write to my mother-in-law and to a genealogy cousin that don’t have computers as well as calling my mother-in-law for talks on the phone occasionally. With both my mother-in-law and cousin, they like to also add newspaper clippings that they think will interest me. I copy emails with information that I think they will be interested in. Handwritten letters are much more personal than emails.

    My four grandchildren live in another state. I will occasionally pick up postcards to send to each of them with little notes to each of the kids. They love it and so do I. We would miss so much of their lives if it weren’t for emails from my daughter.

  8. Phil Bolsta Says:

    Yes, however you keep in touch is not as important as the fact that you keep in touch. Glad to hear you’re always building intimacy with your loved ones, Patricia.

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