Letter-writing sadly a lost art

When last did you pick up a pen and find just the perfect paper on which to write your thoughts, your worries, your questions; and then put that paper in an envelope, affix a stamp, and drop the envelope in one of those red boxes that say Canada Post?
It’s called writing a letter.
I would wager many or most under the age of 30 have never written a letter, and probably just as likely have not received one. It’s a valuable part of our communication that has been lost—forsaken for the instant gratification of e-mails, texts, Facebook messages, and the like.
I’ve just finished reading The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society that is written entirely in the form of letters. It was, though set in a heart-breaking and gut-wrenching time, being witness of actions that fall far below cruel and inhumane, a lovely read.
Aside of the hard truth of war was the magic of writing and receiving letters, the sharing of the tiny but valuable details of one’s story.
If you haven’t read it, you must. If you have read it, you understand.
If my home were on fire this very second and I had to run for my life, I would risk it (my life, that is) to grab the book in which I have pressed and glued all the letters from my father—letters that I touch and retouch to read again and again, letters that keep him near.
Injury would have been worth it to keep that which I treasure most: my father’s thoughts there on the page in his precious hand-writing; the loops and lines that told as much of him as the words.
I remember my mother receiving letters from her mother. The telephone was not an affordable tool in those days and my mother poured over the weekly letters from my grandmother. My mother would tear open the envelope, adjust her glasses, then would sit and read the events of the week from my grandmother’s perspective.
Sometimes my mother cried, other times she laughed, and sometimes she just gazed when she had finished reading. But always she folded up the letter and placed it back in the envelope, and tucked it in the top drawer of her desk to read again later.
When my mother moved into a facility that could assist her with the struggles of Alzheimer’s, my sister found the letters my father had written to my mother before he convinced her to marry him. Love letters tied up with a red ribbon, as lovely and clichéd as one can imagine.
My father met my mother on a flight at the end of the Second World War when he was returning from service in India with the RCAF. My mother was on the same leg of the flight from Victoria to Winnipeg, having just visited her sister.
My mother and father sat across the aisle from each other. Though now faded, a birthmark on my mother’s wrist in the shape of a perfect ‘J’ sparked their conversation.
“What is that?” he asked, pointing to the mark on my mother’s wrist, undoubtedly interested in this young woman with lovely skin and darker than dark eyes.
“Oh that,” she must have said with a giggle. “That is my destiny, to meet a man whose name begins with J.”
He smiled, they chatted, and when they landed in Winnipeg, he recovered his Air Force cap from the overhead bin. There, inside the brim in bold letters, was “J R Stewart.”
My mother blushed, they exchanged addresses, and so began the letter-writing that convinced a young teacher north of Brandon, Man. to move to Fort Frances and start an adventure called my family.
My sister and I haven’t read those letters. We keep the ribbon wrapped around them and one day perhaps we will read them, but for now, we hold them safely for my mother—for memories she no longer can retrieve.
And we preserve them in honour of a man who took the time to write with pen and paper, “Dearest Shirley.”
wendistewart@live.ca

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