Ode to the Letter

Ode to the Letter

I grew up on Joni Mitchell. She is a gifted song writer and a talented performer. Still, to this day, I will frequently have a night with Joni. I’ll dim the lights, light a few candles, get a lovely glass of red wine, put on Joni Mitchell’s Blue album, and as if in H. G. Wells’ time machine, be whisked back to my college years. If pushed to choose, I’d have to say “Both Sides Now” is my favorite song she wrote, which ironically, was first made popular by Judy Collins, not by Joni herself. But, perhaps, this is too much info, because all I really want to do here, is to pull some lyrics from that song : )

“There’s something lost but something gained in living everyday.”

As time marches on, and things change on a daily basis, I am well aware and thankful for what’s been gained, but I’m also painfully aware of what has been lost. Not wishing to become overly morose, I’ll focus on one singular item, dare I say “tradition” that is almost lost… and that is “the letter”.  

There was a time when going to the mailbox was motivated by something completely different than checking for boxes from Amazon. Without the internet, the mailbox was a portal to the outside world. As a child I’d check the mailbox for letters from penpals, chain mail, letters and postcards from friends that were away at camp and vacations, and important correspondences from The Beatles’ Fan Club of which I was a card carrying member, thank you very much 🙂

As a teen, the mailbox was the source of anticipation and angst, while sending and receiving the most delicious of all letters… the LOVE letter. I remember writing long letters on the thin “airmail paper” to a heart throb that went to Switzerland for a year as a foreign exchange student. At the bottom of each page I wrote: O.D.W.W.B.M. Every time I’d get a response from him, he’d ask… “What does O.D.W.W.B.M mean?” I told him I’d tell him later. “Later” never came. At that time I truly believed he was the love of my life, and that someday he’d be my husband. On the day of our marriage I would reveal to him that O.D.W.W.B.M. was short for “One Day We Will Be Married”. I wanted him to know that I knew it was true love from the very beginning. As it turned out, we didn’t marry, which is probably a good thing since we really had nothing in common, but writing and waiting for responses from him was the single most important experience I had my senior year in high school.

 It is hard for young people today to fully understand how difficult and costly it was to communicate with friends and loved ones. Today, with cell phones, texting, twittering, and Skyping, every thought you have can be shared, at any given moment, with others. Because of the high cost of long distance calls back then, we had to rely on letters. I can remember writing a 26 page letter to my sister-in-law about my birthing experience with Michelle, only to turn around and write another letter, of similar length, to a good friend.

But writing letters helps us become word smiths. Today’s communications call for quick response time. When you write a letter, you have all the time you need to contemplate your words. Your vocabulary is as vast as the dictionary that sits beside you, and the words, once written and sent, become a permanent record of events. Much of history is based on letters that were preserved through time. I have a stack of letters that I have received over time, and although they will never be of any historical value, they do take me back to special moments in my life, that I can easily relive by reading the letters.

Time goes by, technology changes the way we live our lives. I do not wish to give up my cell phone or my ability to Skype. Although 2 of my children live out-of-state, these technologies help me feel very connected to them. I get a text from a son when shopping, asking for the ingredients to my stroganoff. Another son takes a video of his daughter running in circles (which he use to do) and sends it off to me… I get it immediately. Something is “gained”. And, although letter writing may never be as important as it once was, we don’t need to lose its magic completely.

If you want to tickle a friend, write her a letter. If you want to touch your partner’s heart, send him a love letter. If you want to instill a love of language in children, write them letters. If letter writing becomes routine between you and a child, he will experience the anticipation of receiving letters and joy of crafting letters in return.

One of the perks of letter writing, is the ability to select beautiful stationery and note cards. It is also fun to create your own. Also, I like to keep small “tuckables” around to add to letters I write to children. The meekest of tokens become treasures when received in the mail.

Do you have someone in your life that would be thrilled to receive a letter? I’m betting you do 🙂      

Photo 3-1-13



  1. When we are in high school, don’t we all have at least 1 boy we think we will marry? What a sweet post. I was raised on letter writing and hopefully am passing the joy of it on to my children. We sponsor 2 children, one in Kenya and one in Pakistan. My children write letters to them. They also write their cousins that live just a couple hours away, but like you said, it is so fun to get letters in the mail. My mom listened to Joni Mitchell (she died way, way too young in a car accident) so Joni is special to me. My favorite is The River. Love your blog and your lovely ways!

  2. I absolutely love letter writing. The internet really nearly killed it. I’ve had a passion for it since I was a little girl. My best friend moved states away and we were adamant that it not kill our friendship, so we would write spiral notebooks to each other. I remember happily filling notebooks just to send to her. My kids are now writing letters to their friends, who are also states away. And they love it. 🙂 Your post makes me want to go jot some notes today!

    Oh! Did you ever write letters on toilet paper? LOL My mom taught me that and it was always hilarious. 🙂

    1. Yes, we wrote on toilet paper and we would write secret letters using lemon juice, then heat them with a flame. I set more than 1 letter on fire 🙂 We also went through a period of writing letters in code. As you can well imagine, that was timely. I had a boyfriend in college that we wrote journals for one another. When we broke up, I insisted we burn the journals. I think it was probably for the best, but I do sometimes think about them and wish now, for my eyes only, that I could read them again 🙂

      1. My boyfriend in high school and I wrote letters in exercise books which we would pass to one another each day. He held onto them and when he moved in with his girlf (now wife) gave them to me. I am now married and still have them stored away in a box. I never read them but I’m so glad we didn’t destroy them like we discussed as they are filled with alot of memories.

        Incidentally, I write to my nieces and friends children often and include a colouring page or two. I always get one back with a note and their parents tell me they adore receiving the letters.

  3. Pen pals were a very big part of my childhood. Running down to the mailbox when I saw the postman’s car. Watching him sort the envelopes into everyone’s mailbox, hoping that he’d pause and hand one to me! And when a letter came I would race home to open it to read what was new with my pen pal and sort through the stickers and sheets of pretty writing paper that we would send to each other.
    Good memories!

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