I am the keeper of the family letters. Boxes full. Old leather trunks full. Musty folders full. I have letters dating from the 1800’s, so crumbly I don’t take them out of the envelopes. Addressed with only the name and the town of my relatives. Stamped with a one-cent stamp.
An Organization professional would have a field day (yes you Susan Stone) but I hoard them like jewels. Each time I set a box on the floor or unbuckle a trunk, rifle through the onion skin airmail paper, see the familiar left-hand or right-hand slanted loops in royal blue ink, I dig a little deeper into the mysteries that were my family.
Recently, I am trying to decipher letters my mother wrote to her parents in 1955 from Spain, to round out some details in my memoir. She sort of ran away on the pretense of a semester abroad, a decision both Mount Holyoke College and my grandparents immediately regretted. A family story, a bit of romance, and a slippery stack of letters written in English, Spanish and ticked-off college student. I need full sunlight, complete patience and time to work through the papers. A lot of time.
After I spend some time on these letters, writing an email feels like a cheat to me, even though I send dozens a day. My New Year’s resolution has been to take one day a week and send handwritten cards, letters or postcards. Actually uncapping a pen, clearing my table, setting out my box of writing paper. To be truthful, after a few written sentences, the bend in my wrist actually feels a little awkward. Who isn’t accustomed to the ticking tapping speed of a laptop? Who besides me relies on the autocorrect slash of red to alert lazy spelling, the quick press of the ‘send’ button to land the message seconds later in the ‘mailbox’ of the recipient?
Instead, I resolved to spend the time, pick just the right paper or card, sit with tea and think about my words. I have to write the sentences in my head, script them in a measured movement, I even fuss with which stamp goes on which letter.
When I am finished, I feel so satisfied with the stack on the kitchen side table awaiting the next dog walk. The different colored envelopes, the saucy postcard graphics. I like to anticipate the parcel of letters in my pocket, the time it will take for the correspondence to travel and where they are going: To a metal mailbox, a brass mail slot, or perhaps slide under a heavy wooden door, wet with snow. Hands will touch the letters, hands will deliver the letters. Hands wrote these letters.
When I re-read my mother’s words, her funny requests for a certain wool suit, a check, my grandparent’s approval for another semester because she has fallen in love, I want to fall back in love. I want to take the trans-Atlantic ship to France. I want to slow down my life and watch the curling letters fill a crisp page. Her handwritten words capture a slower speed of being, a time of telling stories, of reading stories, of waiting for stories. I miss this.
I’m going to take the time to actually write, not just text or email. I don’t want to lose the art of taking time. And I’d love a letter. If you send me one, I will know you had to think about your words. Sign your name with a flourish.
I hope you do.
Perhaps someone will read the words you write to me fifty years from now, and remember.