The art of letter writing in peril

Packing and unpacking our entire household every couple of years really helped to keep the clutter down. Now that we are settled in one place, I’ve found myself woefully behind and spending too many quality hours on bad weather days with my accumulated junk.

Mixed in with the school memorabilia from three daughters, re-enacting gear, clippings, items destined for garage sales and old magazines, I have found letters.

When I find an old hand-written letter, I stop everything and sit back and reread the letter. After all, someone took the time to sit down and write that letter to me years ago. It is so much like a personal visit.

The wording, and thoughts, are so personal and individual that I feel that I’ve just sat down with this friend or relative from long ago.

Often I feel compelled to write back, and then I remember that person passed away years ago.

Letter writing has become a fine art ... and an endangered one. I cannot remember the last time we got a letter in our mailbox that was not a part of a Christmas greeting. It used to be we got a couple of letters a week from parents, grandparents or great aunts.

For some reason, most likely the distance between us and the long times between visits, I kept those letters. Now I’m so glad I was a letter-saving packrat. I do cherish them.

I have a collection of letters my uncle Bill wrote home during World War II. My dad compiled them in a binder for us all to remember the uncle who was missing in action and never returned. I feel like I’ve met Uncle Bill, although he most likely died six years before I was born. I feel his loss as much as if I’d known him.

I love it that every bad snowstorm was the “Storm of the Century” in my great-grandma’s letters. We also seem to have those storms every three or so years if you listen to some of the weather reports on TV.

I have copies of two letters written by my Great-great-great-great Grandfather Defenbaugh in 1860. His garden was good that year, but he was bemoaning the fact that the weather was so messed up during that spring that there was no fruit on his trees.

Yeah, Grandpa, I understand. That still happens.

This personal connection is why old letters are so valuable to historical societies and museums. They do make history real to a person researching a time period or event.

If you find any old letters as you sort through stuff, don’t throw them away. If you or your relatives have no storage space, check with your local historical society. They may want letters with historical significance or local links.

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