Thursday, September 3, 2015

Does Anyone Write Letters Any More?

When my granddaughter came to see me before leaving for Army Basic Training, her one request was that I write to her.  She isn't allowed to keep her cell phone, so no calls or text messages.  No email either.  But she is allowed to receive mail.  I warned her that letters from me might be pretty boring.  I lead a  quiet life.  Not much drama here.  She said, "I don't care if your letters are boring.  Just please write to me."  So I have had to dust off my letter writing skills and get busy.

Her request for letters got me to thinking about how things have changed over the years.  As a kid, I wrote a lot of letters, mostly to my grandmas and cousins.  Back then, long distance phone calls were expensive so they were reserved for emergency situations.  But we could always come up with a few pennies for a postage stamp.  So we wrote.

I have in my files a few letters written by my aunts to my parents.  They almost always included letters in the cards they sent at Christmas time.  It is fun to re-read those letters from time to time.  Most of them are over 50 years old and some trigger memories of what was going on within our family back then.  Something of the personalities of each writer shows in the style of writing.  One aunt with a great sense of humor would write about the funny side of her life.  Another aunt who had sort of a sour disposition would write letters full of complaints.  Most times I could tell who had written the letter before ever getting as far as the signature.

One of my cousins shared the transcripts of about 60 letters written by my great-grandparents and by their adult children.  They date from 1893 to 1918.  They provide a picture of what life was like for that family around the turn of the century, mostly when they were homesteading in Minnesota, having moved here from New York.  I had all their information - birth dates, death dates, names of their spouses and children - already entered in my genealogy program.  But the letters showed me who they were - their personalities, their likes and dislikes, their love for one another.  Fascinating.

My all time favorites aren't the letters themselves, but the envelopes.  The following were scanned from my Mother's scrapbook.

The first is a clipping from a Twin Cities Sunday newspaper.  Mother's sister, Margaret had left home in northern Minnesota to work in St. Paul.  She sent a letter in an envelope with her drawings for the address.  My grandfather lived in Blackduck, Minnesota at the time.  Her likeness of him was so accurate that the letter reached him without any problem.

The second is an envelope from a letter written by the same person - Mother's sister.  The likeness of my mother is so good that the letter reached her without delay.

And now I am off to write to Nicki.  After all, I promised.


  1. I think a lot of history will disappear, due to few letters being written these days.

  2. Gorges...You are spot on. The letters I have that were written by ancestors are a treasure trove of information and history. Letters are another art form gone by the wayside.

  3. The only people I know who still write paper letters are people who are concerned about the lack of security on the internet. Ironically, your best bet today for secure communications is just a postage stamp and an envelope with a missive inside.

  4. Harry...I think you are right. Pretty tough to hack a paper letter. I suppose if my granddaughter were allowed access to her cell phone, texts and emails would be flying back and forth. As it is, though, I have to say I am rather enjoying the old fashioned process.

  5. We do not permit our 12 yo unlimited access to electrons. She does not have a cell phone. She writes letters to her grandmother. She had a college reading level at the age of 6. Also, she is home schooled. She reads and writes for enjoyment.

  6. Anon...Thank you for your comment. At a time when communications seem to be limited to the number of letters in a text, when conversation is also limited because too many keep their eyes on phone screens and not on those they are with and when reading a good book takes a back seat to video, it is so refreshing to hear of those who still value the time honored skills of reading and writing. I salute you for teaching your daughter what is important.

  7. I haven't written any letters in years. I call my dad once a month or email weekly cause I never know if he home. We used to get letters from my in laws but that too stopped. When I lived in California growing up I wrote to a friend every week or so, then we starting sending cassette tapes back and forth. He would talk, play music, and joke around.

    We don't call much any more either, texting or private messaging through Facebook.

  8. I hadn't written any letters for years. I would call my Dad often when he was living up north, up until his death. I don't have a cell phone, so I don't text, but I do email a lot. I'm kind of enjoying writing to my granddaughter, the old fashioned way with pen and paper.