Last week, I started going through old boxes in my garage in an effort to clear out or throw out those items that I no longer need. In the process, I was amazed to discover two boxes of letters and cards that had been written to me over the last 50 years! These were cards and letters dating back to when I was a child at overnight camp, written to me by my grandmothers, sisters and brother, my parents, aunts and uncles and different friends.
What a surprise! More importantly, it created for me a window into the past through which I could see and feel the emotions that were expressed by the various writers.
As I began sorting through these letters, I found letters written to me during my teenage years, including notes that my best friends passed to me in class. There were letters from my older brother and sister telling me about the people in their lives who meant something to them, what they were doing for work or in their studies and how they felt about their lives. I loved reading these letters as it documented the people we once were and how we viewed our roles in the world.
What was most precious to me were the letters from many people who have passed on but who left behind their handprint on my life: my Nanas, who always loved me and reminded me to “mind my parents and my counselors at camp;” my two elderly aunts, Rae and Molly, who sent me candy and cookies when I was at camp; my sister, Nancy, who helped me during rough times and who encouraged me and praised me for every small accomplishment; and my dad, who generously sent me checks because he knew I was always in need of money in my 20’s.
I also deeply cherish the letters from my brother, Robert, who travelled around the world and described for me what life was life in Africa, England, Israel, Palestine, Canada, and elsewhere; my younger sister, Julie, who at the age of 6 was writing her own books on paper and illustrating them; and my mom, who always reminded me how much she missed me and how much she loved me.
As I sort through the 100s of letters that I moved from place to place and then stored in my attic or garage for 40+ years, I am reminded of how it used to be before we had the internet, when phone calls were very expensive and letters were the best way to communicate. With texting and emails, we no longer keep physical documents, therefore, we have nothing to remind us of the many communications we have received. Writing letters seems to be a lost art and yet, it brings me so much joy and peace to still have these old letters to reread.
Are we losing our history by no longer writing letters to preserve our feelings, thoughts and experiences?
I am going to make an effort to make sure that I don’t stop writing letters to the people I care about. Whether they save them or not is out of my control, but at least I can continue to make the effort because I know that having my history documented is something I value – and maybe the people I send it to, will value it as well.