The Powerful Influence of Old-fashioned Letter-writing

The Powerful Influence of Old-fashioned Letter-writing

In searching through my counseling files, I came across a letter from a granddaughter that warmed my heart again as I recalled my client’s joy. It also inspired this week’s blog.

Dear Grandma, there are so many things that I remember that I did to you that I’m sorry for and I don’t know where to start. The countless times I talked back to you and the agony I put you through. I remember being uncontrollable and hateful and yet you never showed me anything but love…But Grandma, the memory that is so vivid was the evening we were sitting at the dining room table and someone was saying something bad about me. You reached over and put your hand on mine. I’m so sorry that I ripped my hand away.  If I could redo one moment in my life, it would be that. I can’t change my past bad behavior, but I want you to know how sorry I am and ask you to forgive me. I love you Grandma, Eva Jane.

I’m confident that you have received and saved special letters. I learned the awesome value of letter-writing from our mother who wrote to the six of us weekly.  I saved all of mom’s letters written to Jim and me.

Mom’s weekly letters arrived whether we were at church camp, in college or living in another state with our growing families. These weren’t one-pagers but several pages both sides. She enclosed letters from other sibs to keep us current with each other which we returned so she could circulate.  I looked forward to Tuesday when I could pull Mom’s letter out of the box, no matter where I lived. They meant so much, especially when I was expecting a child or adjusting to Pecos sand, wind and snakes. I always answered immediately using a typewriter which is faster than writing. We siblings appreciated her labor of love in spending the precious little bit of free time she had writing to us.

She shared later that when she became totally responsible for her six children, keeping us together was her primary intention. She had never worked outside the home so her goal was momentous. She never indicated how difficult it was to work full time in a factory and keep everything going smoothly at home. Previous blogs have described the sacrifices she made to provide spiritual, emotional and financial security to her children.  Through letters she continued to encourage us, keeping up with our needs, children, activities, and assured us of her love and prayers. And we also wrote to each other.

Several weeks ago, during our weekly chat, Jane read an exciting letter from Shirley written years ago about the spiritual growth of Ralph and their five teenaged children.  We agreed that Shirley’s kids would no doubt enjoy reading their Mom’s delight in sharing a snap-shot of their history. Copies were made and mailed.

Even though technology has wonderfully simplified and encouraged communication, by the same token texting and emailing has contributed to hand-written letter-writing fast becoming obsolete. When was the last time you penned a two or three-page letter?

Thinking about the influence and joys of personal letters brings back a vivid family memory. When Mom quit driving when she was 93, we knew she couldn’t live alone comfortably and safely much longer so five of us sibs and our spouses gathered at her home to break up housekeeping and put her house up for sale. John had already contacted an auctioneer and we were to reclaim gifts to Mom if we wanted and refine the final decisions on the launching of Mom’s chosen ‘On the Road Assisted-Living’ care, visiting each child for a two to three months’ time period across five states.

Boxes and boxes of letters from an upstairs closet were brought down to the patio. What to do with them? We pulled chairs around to check the contents. To our amazement we discovered that Mom had saved years and years of our letters written to her. They were organized into six boxes by sender and date received. We couldn’t resist reading some.  Mac was pleased she had kept letters from his overseas assignments.  We laughed, cried and teased. David said, “John, your pile is really small”. John smiled as he proclaimed, “I’m the only one who didn’t abandon Mom; I visited her every week and called every Saturday.” My sharing what Mom had recently said to me on the phone when I bemoaned the fact that we were so many miles apart, she said, “Who moved?” was met with gales of laughter and John was exonerated for his small pile. Then, a brother-in-law admonished, “Hey, you guys, better put the letters up and do what we came to do.”  He was right. We needed a manager to keep us on target. So, we moved the letters to our vehicles.

Mom was helpful as we made decisions that met with her approval regarding dispensing her furniture and possessions. She loved seeing her kids enjoy being together and trusted our decisions on her behalf. John said, “Well, Mom, what do you think about all of this?” to which she shot back, “I have about as much say as I will have at my funeral.”  She was always a step ahead of us…even at 93.

I not only have my letters written to Mom, but, yes, I have more than 50 years of her letters written to us. In transporting the plastic boxes as we’ve moved, Jim would ask “Why are you keeping these old letters?” “I’m going to re-read them when I get old,” I assured him.  So, this week, I guess, I’m admitting that I’m finally old. In preparing for this blog, I am doubly glad that I have her letters for reference.

Mom’s letters serve as valuable accounts of our family history. They actually qualify as Mom’s personal journal with news of her purposeful life in making Red Cross visits to the Veterans Hospital and two rest homes; her activities teaching children at church, and chauffeuring friends to appointments and grocery stores (some much younger than she). I’m impressed how she managed to mention each sibling in her letters and encouraged us in our individual ministries. She kept us apprised of her immediate family and our hometown friends.  But most of all, Mom’s letters kept the six of us connected and informed.  We never lost contact with each other.  Her letters were often humorous as this excerpt shows when I was 16 and at camp having visited Niagara Falls on the way:

I’m anxious to hear of your trip up. I’ll bet you were awed by the magnitude of the Niagara Falls.  Someday an old, old lady will totter up to the brink and look over, and up or across however ‘tis--that will be me.

There’s no doubt many of you readers have profited immensely emotionally and historically from letters from military personnel and family. I hope you can lay your hands on some letters or papers written by family members that maybe you were never privileged to meet. I’d love to hear your stories for a follow-up blog.

Today, we also benefit significantly from letters written thousands of years ago by the Apostle Paul and other leaders which were circulated among young church groups to encourage and teach. These letters found in the New Testament continue to inspire, teach and encourage us today. I particularly like this passage from one of Paul’s letters recorded in Romans 12:

Rom 12.9-18

9 Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. 10 Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. 11 Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. 12 Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.13 Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality. 14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. 16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited. 17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. 18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.