Several years ago, my grandmother surprised our family by returning all of the letters we have written to her over the years. I was astonished to learn that, for more than forty years, she saved every piece of personal correspondence in its original stamped envelope!
My mother was the most faithful pen pal, usually writing at least once a week. Her letters chronicled our family’s life, from her courtship with my father, through their early days of marriage, to the years of child raising, and beyond. What an unexpected gift it has been to glimpse snapshots of years past, reliving many long-forgotten events through personal observations and newsy tidbits.
Although fewer in number, my own letters take me back to my youth. From preschool drawings of rainbows to the notes penned when my children were babies, I have enjoyed the nostalgia that rereading this correspondence has brought. Why, even seeing old stationery and address labels opens a floodgate of memories!
I remember sitting at the kitchen table as a kindergartner, laboriously printing thank-you notes on now-yellowed, lined paper with cartoon animals in the corner. I giggle and roll my eyes at my fat, loopy adolescent handwriting—Is dotted with hearts, of course—penned on notebook paper folded like origami. Then, in my more familiar grown-up script, I reread floral postcards jotted hastily from my college dorm room, embossed ivory monogrammed note cards penned in my apartment as a newlywed, and teacup-themed stationery written in a quiet spot in our home while little ones slept nearby.
Bundled together, all of these letters tell the story of my journey to womanhood. I’m so grateful that my grandmother felt that these were stories worth preserving.
Receiving this treasury of letters has reminded me how precious personal correspondence can be. “We lay aside letters never to read them again, and at last we destroy them out of discretion,” Johann Wolfgang von Goethe lamented, “and so disappears the most beautiful, the most immediate breath of life, irrecoverable for ourselves and for others.”
I am now determined to keep my children’s letters so that, years from now, each one can read through his or her life in letters, knowing that each word, memory, and sentiment shared was savored and cherished by a mother who was sincerely theirs.
Text Melissa Lester
Photography John O’Hagan
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