The Lost Art of Letter Writing

You know the good feeling when you find a handwritten note in the stack of bills and ads in the mailbox? That is reason enough for National Letter-Writing Month.

Letters have always meant a lot to me. Perhaps it was because we moved so often during my childhood – 14 schools in 12 years – and pre-Internet, it was the way to keep in touch.

The photo at right shows letters from my grandfather, my dad’s father. We wrote to each other for decades, and I prize every page of his chicken-scratch.

I gathered quotes from the letters to write his eulogy in 1996.

One of my favorites is from 1987, when I’d seen a movie (John Sayles’ Matewan) about the coal-miners’ strikes of the early 1900s. "G-Daddy" would’ve been a teenager back then and, with three brothers who worked in West Virginia mines, I asked for his recollections of that time.

He wrote in great detail about the ramshackle “company towns” that sprung up near the mines, and the hardships people faced there. “And yet,” he said, “they still managed to fall in love, start families and hope for better lives.”

He wrote about cashing in his life insurance and selling his “good guns” to stay afloat during the Great Depression, supporting a wife and child, brother-in-law and mother-in-law.

Even politics weren’t off the table. In 1992, he wrote, “I am and have been a registered Republican all my life, but have never voted for anyone except a Democrat since I first voted for F. Roosevelt.” He went on to detail his rock-solid reasoning.

Every sentence of a handwritten letter is a gift to its recipient. So, back away from the screen and keyboard long enough to write one this month. You might even be leaving a legacy.