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The Lost Art Of Letter Writing

Old Family Letters
Old Family Letters

Does Anyone Write Letters Anymore?

Or is it really a lost art? Do we even write letters anymore? Maybe a card was sent with a signature, but what about pages and pages of letters? Is it a lost art? I think it may be. As you know, I love to write, but I never write letters to anyone anymore. I send emails. I even send e-cards. At Christmas, I dash off my signature or a quick note. Am I in such a hurry that I cannot take the time to write? I know of one person that loves our Quilling Cards and she takes the time each week to send a few to her friends and family. I think that is so special and I think it is time for me to start sending letters too.

Key West And My Aunt Judy

I spent time in Key West, Florida, last week, helping go through my Aunt Judy’s home, which needed to be cleaned out of over a century of memories. Judy passed away last Spring, and now her home and estate are in the process of being sold. I was amazed at how organized she was. A place for everything and a folder, drawer, or box for everyone. Each was labeled in a way we knew at a glance what we would find when we opened it up.

 

Judy or Judith Gaddis, as she was known in Key West and to many others, moved there in the late 70s and lived in a beautiful old home in the historic area of Key West. Judy was my father’s sister. I never knew this side of my family that well. I met Judy when I was around 13 years old, and we always kept in touch. The sad thing is that while we talked all the time on the phone, I never took the time to fly down to Key West to visit her. I flew down to help go through her belongings, deciding what to keep and what to throw out—seeing all her treasures that would now be sold off. So many beautiful pieces of art. I am sure much of her jewelry was that of my grandmother and great-grandmothers.

So Many Memories

If you have ever had to go in and clean out a home of a loved one, I am sure you understand where I am coming from today. How do you decide just what to keep and what to toss? Of course, old bills went right to the recycling box, but when I came to the albums and all of her precious memories of her love of France and her love of a man named Duke, I was just not sure what to do.  And photo’s, I wish I knew who some of these people were.

Hat Boxes and Love Letters

Then came the hat boxes. Two very old falling apart hat boxes filled with letters. Letters from Judy to her mother, my grandmother. Letters from my grandmother to her mother, my great-grandmother. Love letters to and from my step-grandfather. Some dated as far back as 1902. Even a leather postcard from Yellowstone dated 1905. All the family information I never knew about might be in these letters. After talking to my new friend Lynn and Judy’s good friend and executor of her estate, we decided just to put it all in a big box and mail it to my home. I was concerned with all the decay and silverfish but figured I could keep it all out in the garage.

 

Today as I am writing this, the first of 2 boxes showed up. Beautiful love letters from Judy’s boyfriends were included, each tied up in a ribbon. I skimmed one and thought to myself how sweet these young men were in what they wrote. These were of a different time, I guess. Such charming letters that Judy kept all these years. No, I cannot just toss them out. Somehow I will figure something out to do with them. But more interesting were the letters from my grandmother to her mother. And those of her father’s to his family back in Greece. A good winter project. Plus, all the empty envelopes with the stamps.

 

There even was a letter from the American Playwright Tennessee Williams to my grandmother Ariadne or, as we called her, Paz. He apologized to her for using her name in his play, Cat On A Hot Tin Roof. He assured her he would take out all future mention of her name. My grandmother wrote a few books, one of which was from her childhood home in St. Louis, MO, called The Octagonal Heart. I guess she did not want her name in his plays. I need to look further into that.

Time To Toss A Few Things Of Mine

While I have loved seeing all these letters, at the same time, I was very sad to know I was also throwing out so many memories of a beautiful woman that led such an extraordinary life. As I sorted so much, pulling some to send to the remaining family members. Knowing I could not keep all the photographs, I used my camera on my phone to take as many pictures as I could.  I am still going through my grandmother Rose Behnke’s photos. I also promised myself to come home and TOSS out all my journals and do some more major decluttering. Do I need to keep 43 years of checkbooks and tax returns? No need for my grandkids having to make that decision. Some things are private, and at this time in my life, I have decided they can stay private.

Stephanie Fleming was raised at Behnke’s Nurseries in Beltsville. Her Mom, Sonja, was one of Albert & Rose Behnke’s four children. She was weeding from the moment she could walk and hiding as soon as she was old enough to run, so many weeds, so little time. Although she quickly learned how to pull out a perennial and get taken off of weed pulling duty.

This Post Has 8 Comments

  1. I was really interested in this piece because I grew up writing letters to family members. I’ve kept every letter and card that has ever been sent me, and kept copies of epic letters of my travels as well. When my mom died in May we started going through cabinets. Mama had kept all my letters, and those of my siblings, but she had a huge stash of my letters because I constantly wrote my parents. When my mother didn’t feel like talking on the phone from January on, I decided to write her again and just mention the same mundane things I might share on a phone call. When it was my turn to take care of her again in March, she made a point of letting me know she read all the letters and saved them. Letters are important for family research. I did not marry or have children so, in some way, I hope someone will learn something about me and the time during which I grew up. I never met my paternal grandparents and got a little insight about them from letters I found in the cabinet. I think letter-writing is the personal effort that I think the recipient appreciates. If nothing else, a personal letter is a pleasant reprieve from junk mail and bills!

    1. Hello! Thank you so much for writing your thoughts. I was not sure when I wrote this piece if I really should but I am glad I did. I am spending a hour a day going through this life time of memories that I saved of part of my family I really knew nothing about. ~Stephanie

  2. After barely over a decade of marriage, my husband and I lost three parents in just 3 years. The collective loss was devastating; as after only beginning to emerge from the grief of losing one, another soon followed. What curiously emerged was my ability to quickly capture a lifetime. I was asked last minute to write my mother-in-law’s eulogy after having written a story about my father entitled The Sweater, which appeared in the Handbook for Mortals – Guidance for People Facing Serious Illness (a book being edited by a friend, who prompted me to put pen-to-paper a story I had shared with her). Rising to each occasion, I dropped deep into my heart and let the memories flow. It appears the seemingly simple act of writing was in and of itself an effective form of coping and healing in both situations.

    I trace this evolved ability from my teenage years exchanging letters with my best friend since 7th grade during summer vacations when we spent miles – and oceans – apart. As a surprise gift for our 60th birthday, I asked her to dig out all of my letters she kept. Combining them with mine from her, I color-copied and assembled them chronologically into a beautiful binder. What an incredible gift that captured a shared chapter of our lives allowing us to relish in the joy of discovering some long ago forgotten memories. By far, it was the best gift I had ever given, and received, as I also made a complete set for myself. The best part was getting together on multiple occasions to read out loud (while we are both still alive) to laugh and cry at all of our crazy teenage antics, dramas, and musings.

    I wanted to send this post because I’ve experienced sharing a part of oneself via written word uniquely portrays a snapshot of time. I suggest everyone consider discovering inside themselves the wonderous treasure of history capturing life’s components — from the mundane to magnificent – with those you love…and yourself. I promise the thrill of both sending and receiving a hand-written (or typed) letter in the mail is quite the treasure….that keeps giving each time it is read. Enjoy !

    1. I so agree with you! I loved what you put together with your friend. My Aunt Judy put together many binders of different times of her life. I even found that her friend she met when they were in their 20s made a booklet out of construction paper with drawings from when they met till they were both in their 70s. It was so dear, and we are sending it back to her friend to keep. I am glad I decided to bring the letters at least home. I know she spent weeks, if not months sorting through so many memories to create beautiful binders of her trips to France, where she would spend months.
      I think maybe, in some way, I write this blog each week as a small record that will be there down the road if and when my grandchildren want to know more. I have been filling out a memory book my children gave me where I answer a question each week. I can add photos etc. I need to go ahead and catch up and finish it. Thank you for sharing your memories and thoughts ~ Stephanie

  3. Dear Stephanie,
    When I opened your e mail this morning, it was like talking to a friend. I am 82 years old, living in my home for 52 years. Yesterday I spent the afternoon going through a file cabinet wondering what to discard. Everything is organized but when I pass do my children want all my photo albums ? Do they want my paintings ? How about all the treasures that I have collected from around the world. Grand children are not married yet and tell me they have small apartments.
    Does it all go in the dumpster ?
    Since they don’t teach writing in school anymore, will they not even be able to read.
    Sometimes it makes me sad.
    But I am still here and enjoy the beauty of the birds and the challenges of gardening.
    We all have talents God has given us and the gift of life.
    Blessings……………….Gloria

    1. My husband reminded me this week as I was feeling down about all of my Aunt’s treasures that will be sold to strangers, about all the treasures we have bought from estate sales over the last 43 years. And he is right. We are the caretakers of THINGS till the next person decides they love it. We have so many collections, from things made by Winchester to my collection of depression glass. All of which belonged to someone else. I cannot expect my children or grandchildren to keep it all. (although I did keep my grandmothers, china, rock collection, and a few other things) THINGS are just THINGS, but the letters are something else. When I got my grandmother’s album of all the letters from the first ladies thanking her for the African Violets she would send to the white house, I knew I had to do something with them. I made a photo book that all my cousins now have a copy. I can figure out what to do with these letters. My son is excited to look and get dates for something called ancestery.com. Having actual birth and death notices will help fill in many of the blanks on that side of my family. Enjoy what Mother Nature and God have shared with us and your garden. ~Stephanie

  4. What a beautifully written memoir. Loved reading about your trip💜💜

    I addressed eight quilled cards yesterday and today it will be 12 more – at least..
    I should have ordered more Wild Turkeys..
    Next year I will remember to order more. I send so many of these beautiful cards I now keep a list of what I send so I won’t duplicate.. I cannot tell you how much these cards mean! They really make my friends happy.

    Happy and blessed Thanksgiving Stephanie to you and your family.🦃🦃🙏🙏🦃🦃

  5. Dear Kay, You, my friend, are such an inspiration and joy! I love how much you love the cards, and when your sister told me that you do not just sign your name when you send them to friends and family but that you write long letters, it made my heart happy.
    You know you are the one I was referring to in my article.
    Keep on writing and sending joy! ~ Stephanie

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