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My Life in Letters

June 30, 2015

lettersEvery time I try to clean out my attic thoroughly, I end up being sidetracked, going through the boxes and crates of all my souvenirs.  I had to confess to one rather amusing discovery: in an envelope addressed to me and postmarked 1974, I found an application for the National Procrastination Society.  Ironically, I never got around to completing it and returning it. I guess I’m an official member by default.

Only by chance do I uncover some of the letters I know are there: one from my first elementary school Elaine, written during the year and a half my family moved away from Florence, Alabama, to Columbia, Tennessee.  She included her own review of her most recent book list–the Nancy Drew mysteries she had enjoyed–and asked for a list of the titles I’d read. She also spoke is great anticipation of the movie Mary Poppins, set to be released that Christmas. Our letters are fewer now, but we still include book recommendations.

After my family moved back to Florence in 1966, I began receiving letters from my friend and neighbor Robin (who still writes me to this day). Over the years, I had pen pals I’d only met once or twice (Candy Parks).

By the time I left home for college, I already had the built-in urge to check the mail.  Luckily, my school mailbox (#58, combination J-H-F) was frequently filled.  My mother wrote, naturally, but my daddy wrote too–and often. My best friend Debbie also kept me updated. Since I left for college with a boyfriend, I had all those letters too. (Even better, after we broke up, he gave me back all the ones I had written to him. What a stroke of luck!)

I have also saved a number of letters from a friend from back home, just a few years older than me, a newlywed herself when we became friends.  I still have one letter telling me she was excepting her first–and second–baby (twin girls), adding that my own mother’s ability to manage five daughters had given her confidence.

Even though I’ve been out of college almost 39 years, I’ve managed to keep up with so many friends, some I haven’t seen since–or at most a couple of times, but I imagine I could take a cross-country trip and never have to find a hotel room. I could just couch surf across the U.S.A. I also have letters and year-after-year of Christmas cards from lots of friends, letting me watch their children grow up.  My friend Sally died of cancer a few years ago, but she kept the letters coming up until the end, even though we hadn’t seen each other since our college graduation in 1976. The correspondence has moved from wedding invitations to birth announcements, and now retirement plans.

Having just retired from teaching, I left my office, where I had four four-drawer filing cabinets, dragging home all my files in boxes.  Now I’m feeling the urge to head down to the local Habitat store to snag a couple of file cabinets (for starters).  Not only do I want to get my teaching files sorted, purging duplicates, but I think I might like to start a filing system for all those letters, those records of friendships that have lived on before Facebook, saved in their original envelopes in handwritten I recognized easily at a glance.

I think of all the great men and women whose lives have been chronicled by biographers, publications made possible because of the trail left by letters. Though I am thankful so often for the speed and efficiency of email and texting, I fear that the sheer quantity, though it made indeed remain out there forever in cyberspace, may not lead to the same treasures.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. sandyyoung75 permalink
    July 1, 2015 1:22 am

    What an interesting and loverly post, Nancy! You MUST have a filing system for all those letters, my dear. How precious they are! I’m afraid I didn’t keep all of my teaching materials. No one wanted my treasures when I retired, so I threw most of them away. Not all of them, though! In fact, as I was cleaning my bookshelves of textbooks that I no longer need, I found a folder of priceless materials. I may make my find into an essay before our workshop is complete! Thanks for sharing your letter life!

  2. July 1, 2015 7:43 pm

    I love this post, Nancy! I recently had to write a timeline of how I became a writer for a course I’m taking, and doing it reminded me of all the copies of correspondence I have filed in my basement. I referred to them as a shadow journal of our lives because I wrote stuff in the letters that often didn’t get into my journal. It’s funny but when people try and help me purge in an effort to downsize, I keep saying – just make sure if there’s anything hand-written, I get to see it before you toss it. Now, I’ve revised that – if it’s anything typed or written at all – don’t touch it – I’ll take care of it. I know I probably wouldn’t even know if things got tossed, but it’s still neat to go back over the years. My only regret is that I didn’t keep up my letter-writing, but I guess it shifted when I first got ill, then had kids – I do have copies of all my emails, medical records (in detail because I was keeping my own version – and notes to the kids, in their lunches etc.) so I guess in some ways, it’s a different version of life.

    On a different note, I am so looking forward to Hickory. While I have your attention, maybe you can tell me – since both my husband and I are coming – he will likely come to readings and anything generally open to everyone (not workshops, I guess I’m saying) – so should I buy a ticket (is that the term for it) for two? And how do I do that and when? If this is posted elsewhere and I’ve just missed it – just give me the link and I’ll go there. Thanks, Nancy.

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