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October 10, 2012

Have We Lost the Art of Writing Compelling Letters?

Take a look at some poignant letters written over 100 years ago.  Andrew Bass wrote to his wife from Camp Lee near Richmond Virginia in 1862 "Dear wife, don’t grieve for me it will do no good but let me say to you pray for me with all your heart that if we never meet on earth again that we may meet in heaven where parting will be no more."

John DeCamp wrote to his brother William about coming to Ohio in 1829 "Dear Brother at the last time we saw each other thee expressed a strong desire to come out here and I have frequently written to thee on the subject. Yet not withstanding I humbly desire that thee will not take up with my mind alone in this matter. But use thy own will herein. As I do not wish to over persuade thee or any of my friends."

Such beautiful writing! It is so expressive and for me it evokes strong emotions. But what would John or Andrew have said, and how would they have said it or sent it, if they were writing now?

Andrew might have sent an email "Hey sweetie, I'm okay. Keep your fingers crossed I make it home safe and sound but please don't worry."

John might have texted his brother William "Bro - r u coming 2 Ohio or not?"

They don't quite evoke the same emotions do they? And would they be saved? Would descendants of John or Andrew be able to read their words 100 years later?

Yes, I fear we've lost the art of letter writing. Don't get me wrong, I love technology. I love email and texting via smartphones. But I also love getting a letter by snail mail and prolonging the opening of the envelope. Anticipation builds while the kettle is put on to boil water for tea. It's almost a ritual.

But I don't get many snail mail letters anymore. In fact the last one I got was several months ago from my 89 year old auntie.

Have we lost letter writing forever? Is it too late to get it back? I often think of how our descendants won't have our words on paper to enjoy. How they may not have our photographs since most of us keep them in digital format.

I'm not sure what, if anything, can be done. But I sure love the sweetness of Andrew's words to his wife and the longing I can hear in John's note to his brother. And I hope we haven't lost that completely.


Peg said...

For my mother's recent 90th birthday, what she asked for was a letter from each of her eight grandchildren. So I sent out a Facebook message to each of them, and several more reminders after that. She received six rather lengthy, newsy letters, and two hand made cards from great-grandchildren. Was she disappointed in the two who didn't send a letter? A little, I think, but she was gracious about it. She has been busy for the past couple of weeks, writing a letter back to each of them who wrote to her. What joy it has brought her, reading and rereading and answering those letters.

Olive Tree Genealogy said...

Peg - what a fabulous idea! Most of my grandchildren are a bit too young. I have 10 ranging from age 9 months to 14 years but I am going to keep this in mind for the future.

Olive Tree Genealogy said...

Peg I forgot to add that I used to write letters to hubs' grandmother once a month. She was in her 80s and lived alone. So every month I'd sit and tell her what we'd been up to the previous month. Then I'd print off photos to send - just ordinary photos of everyday life. She loved those letters and saved them all. After she passed away this year, we found all of them in a drawer in her kitchen.

Peg said...

Maybe you should send one to the older children and see what happens. Michelle had her two children draw on construction paper, folded it like a card and sent it off to "the Great One." They thought they were writing letters too.

Cassmob (Pauleen) said...

A very petinent reminder of the potential transience of ourvwriting. What a lovely idea and what an opportunity the others missed out on. I wonder if knowing the others get letters will change their minds.

Cassmob (Pauleen) said...

A very petinent reminder of the potential transience of ourvwriting. What a lovely idea and what an opportunity the others missed out on. I wonder if knowing the others get letters will change their minds.

Anonymous said...

Yes, I think we have. I have been fortunate to have had a grandmother and mother who saved letters. We have a collection of letters home from my uncle from WWII (5 2inch binders!), my mother's letters home from Japan (she taught DoD mid-50's), my father's letters home from VietNam (early 60's).

Unfortunately, I haven't run across the letters that sparked the responses - wouldn't that be fabulous! However, even in the digital age, one can save letters, and have both sides of the conversation. My son spent an exchange year in Argentina while in high school - I have saved all the emails we exchanged that year.

While email tends to be more like a conversation (shorter, less grammatically correct!), the advantage is that you see both sides. Because of this, I do try to keep some formality in my writing, but I have to admit that smilie faces do creep in ;-).

Susi's Quarter said...

Writing is becoming scant in many ways. Alas, I am a person of many words and probably won't run out until I am gone. ie Susi's Chatty Performances. When Mom turned 90, I had family distant and close and many 2nd and 3rd cousins etc send her cards. A GF school class made her cards and sent them in a large envelope. She delighted in those cards though I never got to see any
of them. Mom taught me to write to her parents and family when I was small because we lived a couple thousand miles apart. The government lost my letters when we transferred from Coronado, Ca to HI. I had letters from my Great Grandmother and Grand Parents and Great Uncles and Great Aunts. I am blessed 1 Great Aunt is still alive. I write a Xmas letter every year and if family keeps it they will at least have a running synopsis of our life over a period of time.