The Lost Art of Writing Letters

Victorian-WriterBack in the days (a long, long time ago it seems) before computers, cell phones, i-pads, and text messaging, people wrote letters. Lots of letters. They were elegant and sincere and the wording was often flowery. Letters expressed matters of the heart simply, but with style and usually in a flowing script. Letters created a permanent form of communication that could be bundled up, tied with a bow and kept forever in a treasured place. The receivers often took them out and reread them to re-live the connection they had with the sender.

In the old West, it took weeks or months sometime to receive a letter and the waiting increased their value I think. When the letter finally got into the hands of the intended, they read it until they often wore the paper thin while they waited patiently for the next one.

letters2Letters strengthened a bond between two people and said exactly what was in their hearts. Letters spoke of love and commitment, loneliness and desire, and of thoughts and dreams that they dared not speak in person. Society was so constricted with rules that it was only through putting thoughts on paper that they could express what was truly in their heart without fear of censure.

John Donne wrote: “More than kisses, letters mingle souls.”

I think romance writer Mary Schramski says it best though: “There was a time when the world was gentle, and love letters floated down into waiting hands of the recipients like snowflakes.”

Truly she knew what it was like, for this romance author was quite the letter-writer.

inkwellThe story I wrote for the “Give Me a Texan” anthology a few years ago is called The Love Letter. In the story, Payton McCord and his best friend, both died-in-the-wool cowboys, love playing practical jokes on each other. But, their antics kinda got out of hand after Payton almost cost his friend his marriage. To get even, the man who’d once saved Payton’s life writes a love letter to a much maligned woman who raises sheep but signs Payton’s initials to it.

This is the letter Payton’s friend wrote: “I yearn to see the beauty of your face, hear the tone of your voice, and inhale your fragrance that wafts in the wind like a million wildflowers in bloom.  Please meet me in Amarillo by morning in the lobby of the hotel.  Then, you shall know the love I speak.  Look for the crescent birthmark on my right hand and the adoration in my eyes.”

lettersThat love letter set off a chain of events that no one could predict. Amanda Lemmons, the shepherdess and recipient of the love letter, suspects someone means to humiliate her in front of the whole town. Involved in a war with the cattlemen, she knows what lengths the ranchers will go in order to drive her off her land. Determined to outsmart them, she devises a plan to turn the tables on the Lothario letter-writer. Just let those cattle barons think they have the upper hand! What happens is humorous and entertaining and shows how a simple letter can change the hands of fate.

What do letters and/or cards mean to you and do you have any you saved? I have one my husband wrote to me that I wouldn’t take any amount of money for. He died in 2006. And being a man of few words, he voiced what was in his heart. It’s beautiful.



The Lost Art of Writing Letters — 11 Comments

  1. I have a whole box of letters. Some I wrote to my parents and some I received from my now husband. I was in the Peace Corps from 1968 to 1971. That was long before cell phones or common computer communication. I didn’t even see a TV except once in those years. Communication with home was slow and not always reliable. I didn’t find out about the moon landing until 3 or 4 days after it happened. Hard to believe in this day of instant news and communication.
    The letters to my family serve as a journal of my experiences. The letters to a friend were chatty and light, then turned into something more. When I got back state-side, we became engaged and he was sent overseas for the Vietnam War. We got married after that first tour and he was shipped out 5 weeks later. He had 2 more tours after that. The letters took time to write and expressed more than can be done on Facebook or a quick email. Somehow, putting out paper and pen, then sitting down to carefully compose what you want to say brings out the depth of your feelings. You have to put thought into what you want to say. They were private and for the most part stayed that way. They can be carried with you, tucked next to your heart, and reread whenever you want or need to hear the words again. Those letters from those we have lost are especially important. They touched the papers, put their love into words, and put those words onto paper for us to hold dear for years to come.

    PS, I remember The Love Letter in GIVE ME A TEXAN. A prank that eventually turned out for the best for 2 good people. I need to dig it out and reread it.

    • Hi Pat…….Thanks for coming. I can imagine how precious letters were when you worked in the Peace Corps. In a way, it was like those people on the frontier. Very isolated and far away from home. Only you probably had it worse because I don’t imagine a lot of the people you can contact with could speak English. I’m sure you were very homesick. It sure took a while for news to reach you. Wow! And how sweet the way letters played a great part in marriage to your husband. That’s just it, writing letters in longhand was slow and it let you really express what was in your heart. They really are precious.

      I have a letter my grandmother wrote two days before she passed. Just knowing she touched it and was in tremendous pain when she wrote it makes that all the more cherished.

      I’m glad you enjoyed The Love Letter. That still is a favorite story of mine and I still chuckle how she used the cowboy’s hat as a dog dish. And especially his reaction when he saw it. So funny.

  2. What a fascinating subject. The days of writing letters to loved ones are as rare as a four leaf clover. I love to send cards and letters as well as receive them. I have a friend whose mom & I still corespond through letters. She is from England and has lived here in Louisiana since her husband brought her back after WWII. It’s always a joy to receive her letters and my friend says when one of my letters reach her, she gets her a cup of tea and her favorite biscuits and just sets and reads my letter. He says they make her day receiving one. Maybe we should take time out of our busy schedules and just pen a letter to someone special. We just might brighten someone’s day.

    • Hi Tonya…..I know you write letters regularly to people both in far away places and near. Thank you so much for taking time to send me a few letters and cards. Those sure brightened my day. I don’t do near enough letter-writing and it pains me. But time is a premium for me. Most has something’s name on it.

      I love you, girl!

  3. What a beautiful subject to start off a Monday with! I am just getting back to writing letters, notes, etc., by hand. I am the card ministry lady at our little country church and part of my job is to send cards and notes to those members who are celebrating birthdays, are under-the-weather, or who we have missed for while and want to let know we care. I have my little box of cards to send, and each week I have a list of folks to mail a card to – it has caused me to slow down, think about the person and which card fits them, what to write to them, and mostly to slow down and control my handwriting to make it legible! It has been so fulfilling to me to do this small act of kindness. Thank you for this wonderful post and blessings to you, dear friend!

    • Hi Sharon……Wow, it’s great to see you here. I love it. Thank you for coming, dear friend. Honestly, I don’t know how you find time to write those cards and notes to your church members! You’re one busy lady. But it shows the depth of your heart and your love for people. When we slow down, we open our hearts in a way that emails never do. And yes, controlling handwriting is also a plus! Ha! Sometimes mine is barely legible and I’m ashamed to write so sloppily. I can sense my mama scowling at me. She had beautiful handwriting and she preached it to us kids.

      Love you, lady!

  4. Like Robby White said in the line of his song, Living in 3/4 time, “The dance halls are empty and the mailboxes are too.”
    Writing letters is a dying art. When Rick was incarcerated for fifteen years, we literally planned our entire lives through letters. I still have many of them and every time I pull them out and re-read the words, I always cry. I treasure the words on those pages. I vote that we bring back the beautiful art of letter-writing!

    • Hi Jan…….Glad you came! Yes, we do live a fast life and we miss out on so much joy by rushing through. We need to waltz instead of race. I’ve forgotten how. And yes, you and Rick lived all those horrible years apart through letters. They were and are precious. I regret that Clint didn’t write letters. Just scribbled inside cards. But what he said in those few words were filled with meaning and much love. The words and memories make us cry. And those tears heal a bit of pain in our hearts.

      Love you, sis!

  5. This was such a wonderful blog, Linda. I come from a time before computers when letter writing was the mainstay in communication. My boyfriend, who years later became my husband, sent me a letter almost every day when I was away from home in college and later, in Nebraska, and when he was drafted into service during the Vietnam War. Those letters meant the world to me. They actually had sealing wax seals on the envelopes.
    When my father died, I found a paper bag where he had saved every letter and card I ever wrote to him. It warmed my heart when I found them.
    My grandmother and her stepdaughter were very particular about letters. They carefully chose the stationary and evenscented their notecards and letters. What a wonderful thing it was to receive those letters.
    I have a couple friends who still occasionally send real letters and note cards. It’s so personal to get a handwritten letter. It takes time and contemplation to write a letter, so unlike those brief text messages so popular these days. Letters are delightful treasures to be kept for posterity.
    I loved this blog.

    • Hi Sarah……Glad you stopped by! I’m glad my post meant something special to you. It made me cry when you spoke of finding every card and letter you sent your dad after he passed. That showed how very much he loved you and cherished everything you did. You mattered! Often we don’t know that what we do really matters to someone. Yes, and how women used to scent them! I had forgotten about that. You used to be able to buy scented paper and that was very special. To get one on that stationery really touched me. We used to have stationery shops that sold nothing but paper. Those are long gone now.

      I have a very dear friend that I still correspond with. I love getting her letters. She’s getting very old and frail. AND this reminds me that I owe her one. Guess I’d better get one written!

      Hugs and love, Sarah!

  6. I do save them for a while, my cards anyway. I don’t get many letters anymore mostly emails. I do have a friend that I grew up and I send her a Birthday card every year with a letter inside. Her Birthday is coming up in July so I will be sending her one. Mine was in April and she always sends me a card and rubs it in that I am older then her. We met when we were five years old and yes I am a few months older but not by much.