My brother recently sent me some letters I wrote to him in the 1980s. Back then I wrote letters all the time – to my parents, other siblings, friends. It was what people did, in addition to periodic long-distance phone calls on our land lines. Even my children, both Millennials, wrote me letters during their college years, but those letters gradually evolved into emails. Today, in the midst of their busy adult lives, we text, call, or FaceTime more often than we email.
I don’t want to be an elder who laments the better ways of the old days. Our current methods allow immediate contact, and sometimes a brief exchange of texts is all we need to be in touch. But as Simon Garfield asked in his 2013 book “To the Letter: A Celebration of the Lost Art of Letter Writing,” how will we be able to tell our history without letters?
As I read over the letters my brother sent, I see how rich my relationship was with my two year-old son, a bond that continues to this day. I also see how I was in denial about the depth of my husband’s issues underlying his habit of consuming too much alcohol away from home. My brother expressed concern and suggested he seek counseling; I told him we had it under control and he shouldn’t judge my husband. How wrong I was in that. So I gained something from rereading those letters – I could reexperience so much good and also learn something about myself that my memories have hidden.
One thing that is better now – we are more aware and open about addiction and mental health challenges and we are more fluent in the language of emotions. We can talk things through better, whether in person or other means. We can access resources and information over the internet, and more easily gain a sense that we are not alone in whatever issues we face. I wish I had had those resources back then.
I treasure the letters I wrote back then because they help me understand my history, but I don’t mourn the loss of the letter writing habit. However, this past summer when my 10 year-old grandson was at sleepover camp for the first time, I wrote him weekly letters, perhaps the only ones he’ll ever receive. Maybe I’ll continue that habit with him and his younger brother.
Lee Stevens is an aging Conjuress who spins magic with words and yarn in Hendersonville, North Carolina