Wednesday, October 07, 2009

The Dying Art Of Letter Writing

I'm reading the autobiography of Roald Dahl at the moment (he of Charlie & The Chocolate Factory and The BFG fame) and having got to the part where he was sent to boarding school, it revived many of my own memories.

If you've read any of my previous posts about this subject, you'll know that I'm not particularly happy about having some of those memories revived !

However when he was telling us about the letters that went back and forth between him and his mother, I got to thinking about the dying art of letter writing. In this age of internet and cell phone communication, I can't remember the last time I wrote or received a personal hand written letter.

Being an inveterate hoarder, I went looking through some of the letters I've kept over the decades and found the last one I got from my mum before I left boarding school. Mum was a letter writer extraordinaire and would write to all her brothers and sisters (she was one of 12) just about every week and more often than that to my brother and myself while we were at boarding school. Sadly my eagerly anticipated letters weren't delivered by an owl - mostly because once mum had attached her first letter to it's leg and let it go, our owl was never seen again !

Another letter I've kept for obvious reasons, was written on Wednesday 16th April 1986 and postmarked the following day. Here is an extract.............

We've had constant rain - heavy too - since yesterday morning with severe gale force winds and it looks like continuing today as well. It's well Dad worked so hard at the wall last week althought he got little encouragement from me as I was afraid he was overdoing things. Thank God it looks like he has no ill effects, he feels good. The front garden is like a pool and it'll be days before he can continue on the wall..........

......hope you are well and happy yourself, son. Write or ring soon. Loads of love. God bless and take care of yourself always. Dad and Mum xxxxxxxx

I never got to read that letter for 2 weeks after it was posted and it was the last letter I ever got signed like that. Before it arrived, I got a call from mum saying dad had come in from working again on the garden wall, sat down in his chair saying he was feeling very tired and then collapsed after a massive heart attack. He was in hospital and so I went home to be there but he never recovered and died a few days later.

He had been 74.

After the funeral and spending a few days with mum, I came home and found that letter on the floor under the letterbox. I don't think reading any piece of text affected me so much before or since and rereading it today, even after 23 years, still gets to me.

Would reading an email have had the same effect, even if printed off to keep forever ? No. It's seeing it written in my mum's handwriting that makes it so personal and enhances the deep irony of her words. It makes it easy for me to see her sitting in our little living room in our council house writing it. And even today it makes me feel so guilty for rarely doing what she wanted most from her a phone call or better still, sending her a letter much more often than I did do.

Mum died in 2003 and when I was clearing out the house I found stacks of letters from me going back to my boarding school days......probably every one I'd ever written to her. I finally saw how much letters and phone calls meant to her and how little of my time it would've taken to have made her happy.

It seems that every generation has the same excuse when it comes to keeping in touch with friends and family - we've not got the time. Today with texting, phoning, skyping, IMing, emailing, twittering and so on, we probably think we're all keeping in touch more than at any other time in our history and that may be true on many levels.

But find the time to write a letter, actually hand write it, and wait for the response you get. It will make it feel like time well spent. And who knows, even if the other person doesn't keep it as a treasured possession, it may still start a writing trend that continues for many years to come.

A trend to reverse the dying art of the handwritten letter before we forget how to write altogether.

Give it a try and give a lovely surprise to those who you care about.


Daphne said...

It was the signing-off "hope you are well and happy yourself, son" - - and so on that brought tears to my eyes. Simply and beautifully written and heartfelt.

I think I've kept every handwritten letter I've ever been sent! I still do send things written by hand, though mostly postcards - but I do tend to put letters in with Christmas cards. I'll make sure I do more this year. Thank you for the reminder of what it can mean.

Debby said...


I think I'll go find my stationary.

DecorQuips said...

Wonderful finds here! Also, I made an interesting discovery. Here’s an excerpt from an article I wrote about it this month…
Bring Out The YOU In Your Home Decor!
Bill Blass said, “Style is primarily a matter of instinct.” Decorating takes on a new meaning for each individual. Different tastes in decor mean different furniture, artwork and color palettes. So what is the rule of thumb for making your place zing if it’s not a certain style, pattern, or color?
Bring out the Y-O-U!
Make a statement and let your personality shine through! Add your zing to make it pop. Hang something personal on the wall with a few well-chosen accents-bold and beautiful. The trend for decor is becoming more and more personalized.
Whatever you want to say while decorating, say it with your own individual style. Put it out there for the world to see and don’t look back. Express yourself! When people enter your home they’ll shoot you a complementary smile, knowing it looks and feels sooooo perfectly like you. And no one can do YOU better.
by T. Miller
Décor Tips & Quips from AlphabetPIX
Take your individual decorating style to a whole new level of personalization, and discover a new way of looking at the world around you - Create your own Personalized Name Art with Photos That Look Like Letters!
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Jennyta said...

What a poignant letter. I still have a letter written to me by my grandmother when I was about seven. As you say, it's seeing the person's handwriting in front of you as well as what they say that makes it so personal.

ruth said...

I love receiving post, especially hand written letters (not so keen on horrible official letters). I have numerous letters kept in a special old fashioned typewriter case (no idea where the typewriter is!)

I remember my dad getting a bit upset that he had lost the condolence letters and cards he had received after my mum died. After my dad died, the letters of condolence I received were a real comfort and I have kept every single one. I also found the lost letters about my mum in the chaos of my dad's house and, of course, I keep those too.

Today's news of more impending postal strikes across the UK may deal another blow to the already neglected art of writing and posting letters and cards. I hope not and resolve to do my best to send more personal hand written notes, letters and cards. Thank you for reminding me to do this.

Yorkshire Pudding said...

Nice and thoughtful reflections on the dying art of letter writing. Before computers I was scribbling away all the time but now I am sorry to say that I am losing the handwriting habit. The writing is more and more scruffy and laboured - like I am losing the knack of it.

Anonymous said...

There is nothing more personal than pen to paper. How wonderful to have loveing memories of family.

myrtle said...

this resonated with me on many levels and made me resolve to finally put that pen to paper and write the letter to my nanna that i have been putting off for months, so thank you. also another entertaining read, so thank you for that too :)

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