Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The Value of a Letter

    Anyone who has read my blog posts  knows I value the importance of letters, and the  art of letter writing, and about the large box of letters I have saved over the years from my mother, brother, dad, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins and friends.  Like this one from my life long  friend, Manya who wrote this letter to me November 19, 1969   while I was away at college, and very  homesick :

Hi Kathy!
    Before I begin my letter I would like to have you read the following lines from my book of Happiness - “Your living is determined not so much by what life brings to you as by the attitude you bring to life ; not so much by what happens to you as by the way your mind looks at what happens. Circumstances and situations do color life, but you have been given the mind to choose what the color shall be.”   That is one of my favorite quotes, but I like this one, too." Happier is he who believes that tomorrow will ease all pain and take all sorrow. Happiest he who on earthy sod has faith in himself, his friends , his God" .  There! I hope my words of wisdom have given you a happier outlook . Manya went on to tell me she had visited my mother Monday night, and my boyfriend (at the time) missed me and would pick me up at the airport when I came home for Thanksgiving. 

    Or this letter from my cousin Shauna , several months after her wedding

Dear Kathy,
    Just a note to see how you are, and let you know we’re thinking about you all. Getting married is a wonderful experience but it sure keeps me busy! We are very happy and everyone is well. And how about you… how are you feeling? I was amazed at how agile you were last August. I realize there is still some pain & discomfort but I admire you so much for your patience &strength. Forgive me for not writing. With school and being married and things like cooking (I am horrible), the laundry (everything comes out the wrong color), and general clean-up, (have you ever put liquid soap in a dishwasher?  Don’t. Bubbles everywhere), it seems time flies. 

    While neither of these   personal examples may be as intriguing as letters written by the famously renowned -   Albert Einstein’s letter to President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1939 when Einstein warned of the possibility of Germany building an atomic bomb or   the letters of Hemingway, Virginia Woolf or C.S. Lewis, they do present a time and place in the history of both letter writer, and recipient.  They also tell a lot about the individuals who wrote the letters,  and  relate attitude, activity, compassion, environment, humor. Isn't that why biographers search for  letters of famed authors, poets, politicians , and find them so interesting?  Those letters  give us an up close and personal look at their lives at a given moment, a certain age.  Through their letters we come to know them better, and the age they lived in. 

    It's  the same with most of us, the not so famed.   The letters we write can provide an insight about our life - family, friends, first time experiences and youthful exploits; Adult endeavors, politics, faith, the decisions we make.  Letters are autobiographical.

    Letter writing encompasses a broad range.   There are letters of recommendation, resignation, friendship letters, love letters; Letters of condolence, of good cheer, cover letters, rejection letters; Query letters, letters to the editor and a letter to the  Board of Directors. 

    How well I remember being in grade school and the good nuns teaching the proper way to write a letter. At the time I was in school all English books devoted a complete chapter to letter writing – friendly and formal , and an outline as to the proper way to write a letter.

Your address
Salutation or greeting
Body of letter

    I wish I could say I still write letters like I once did, but I don’t. I have given way to the quick email and short worded text, but I do believe in the tradition and importance of letter writing, and how letters tell a story all their own, and present  a style and permanence high tech doesn't quite provide. 

*** Letters of Note  Correspondence Deserving of a Wider Audience
is a wonderful site dedicated to gathering all sorts of fascinating letters, including one from  author Sherwood Anderson while he was still a copy writer for an ad agency in 1918. One of my favorites is a letter humorist James Thurber wrote to a school boy in 1959 titled You children write illiterate letters in response to the boys letter to him. It's worth the read ! 


elizabethbrinton said...

Now I know why I have scads of letters on file. Your post made me think, not only of the letters I have kept from friends and family, but also how much I enjoyed letters written by great writers. You brightened up this dreary day. Thank you.

Kathy Cooney Dobbs said...

Thank you, Liz ! I have letters from mid 1950's addressed to me - i have begun to categorize according to year & person, but have a long way to go :) I haven't, but do wish I would have copied some email from family & friends and saved, too. May now start doing that now.

Jennifer Lamont Leo said...

I adore letters, especially handwritten and snail-mailed. I worry that the culture of e-mail will ruin letter-writing altogether. An e-mail may say the same thing as a letter, but seems less likely to be cherished somehow. I guess it will have to be up to us stalwarts to keep letter-writing going. Thanks, Kathy.

Anonymous said...

It's too bad the age of tech. has taken some really memorable things from us...a handwritten note these days still thrills me. As I look at the photo here, one of those envelopes looks like it's my handwriting. That had to be postmarked 1970 from Fort Hood, TX while I was in the Army. What GI Joe secrets did I write about then. How cool you kept it. Ron

Paul Schwerdt said...


I wish I had kept more of my letters. My most treasured letters are the ones that my Mother wrote to her cousin when she was 13. That would have been in 1925. If she makes it she'll be 100 on October 31. But she's had dementia a long time; I don't think she even knows that 9/11 occurred. So she won't celebrate much, although my brother and I will be there by her side.

I remembered this item from Voyages in English as well as my high school English text, that the closing of a letter was called the Complimentary Close. And it brought up a burning question that was never explained. If you're composing a letter to complain to a vendor about bad service--would it be an Uncomplimentary Close? :-)

Kathy Cooney Dobbs said...

Yes, Ronnie, postmarked 1970 Texas. I have others from you, too :) Like Jenny commented, there's something special about a hand-written letter. And Paul, I still have that grade school copy of Voyages in English !