Old Letters

Georgiana, Ala., Sept. 14, 1909 — My dear old sweetheart, how are you this eve? You know it is so much pleasure to me to scribble a few lines to you and to think of such a dear one as you are. You cheer the sad moments from my heart and brighten my every hour for you are always on my mind… I bet I can guess you are picking cotton. We have picked a little…

My great-great-grandfather penned those lines to my great-great-grandmother before they were married, and holding their letters and postcards more than 100 years later, I get a glimpse of what they meant to each other. The people they were. Their daily lives. Resting in a simple box with an old photograph of the family standing outside their row house including my great-grandmother at age 16, these delicate pieces of paper – their words and values – outlived both of them.

As a writer, I like the reminder that words can be a legacy.

Recently I found the draft of a letter I sent a friend in 1992, and why I kept the dot-matrix printout with notes and edits scribbled in the margin, or typed it at all before handwriting the final version, is a mystery. Words I wrote to ease his disappointment still hold true for me; the girl I once was encourages the woman I am as I read.

I’ve learned over the years (and still need reminding sometimes) that I overemphasize the “here and now.” I don’t put today into its proper perspective. 

For several paragraphs, I discussed the merits of a “big picture” viewpoint. And more than 20 years ago, I was already appreciating the value of a closed door, although I wrote then we’re meant “to actively search for the key in our pockets,” unless a new doorway is waiting for us. I also wrote that a “No” to one wish was really just a “Yes” to something better, and that sometimes “the things we work for and fight for are the things we’ll appreciate and treasure.”

I recycled a box of greeting cards before moving across the country, but I kept a short stack of favorites. Several of them are tucked in random places, between books in my office or inside a closet, waiting for rediscovery. Blogs and social media posts are fun, but stumbling across a handwritten note from a friend or a compliment from a former editor brings new energy to my work and life. I’ve increased the notes I write each week, sending out some goodwill for the price of a stamp and paper. Watch your mailbox…