By Patricia Baer
One of my favorite memories of my grandmother is how she used to send me cards and letters throughout the year. It was exciting to receive mail addressed specifically to me.
Receiving a letter meant a chance to write one in return, a chance to pour out my heart about all the mundane happenings in my life that probably felt like big news as a kid. Her letters were never terribly long, a couple of sides of stationary usually, whereas mine rambled on for pages and pages.
Her letters also carried her distinct handwriting, always legible and with perfect spelling. My grandfather had an adorable affection for her spelling ability. He once spoke of it to me with great pride, giving me the impression that in his eyes “the perfect woman” had little to do with physical appearance and was all about being a gal who had no need to consult Webster’s.
The slants and loops of her writing became a part of her personality, and I often felt she was in the room speaking to me as I read her notes on the weather and visits with my other relatives.
As she aged and faced health problems, her script became less precise. At one point she conquered emailing, which was fun and provided the satisfaction of instant gratification, but it lacked the comfort of her familiar tone I found in pen-on-paper mail. It did not brighten my mood the way discovering an unexpected notecard-shaped envelope among the bills in my mailbox did.
I have tried to carry on the snail mail tradition with my oldest nephew, but so far it has been a one-way communication. He claims he does not know what to say, and he is young enough that it might be true. Letter writing is something so intimate and personal that sharing your thoughts can make you feel vulnerable and exposed when made permanent in ink. Right now, he is a kid who keeps his thoughts close to the vest.
Many people grieve for the dying art of letter writing, saying histories are being lost. I agree. Nowhere in my house is there a shoebox of emails between me and my other family members. And even if there was, it would be a dull stack of paper lacking their personalities.
Somewhere in my house, though, there is a box or two of notes my grandmother wrote over the years. The day I stumble across them while unpacking I will spend walking through the past and bringing her voice back to life for a little while.