Nostalgia for Letters

carol's letter less copyIn the back of an upstairs closet, under a layer of dust and some old clothes, I uncovered a box I hadn’t seen in years. Inside were some stray photographs from my college days and a few outdated documents. What caught my eye, though, were some letters a dear friend had sent to me. Holding them in my hands brought a flood of memories. I’d been away at school when I got them, on the precipice of the big unknown that was my future.

All these years later, I opened one to a date in the right hand corner: 10-3-79. My friend and I, born in 1960, would have been sophomores in college and 19—19!

“Dear Marcia,” she started, “I’m sorry for taking so long in writing…” I smiled. The apology wasn’t necessary, but Carol was as thoughtful then as she is to this day.


There’s nothing earth-shattering in her words. Still, it’s a thrill to see them again: the talk of classes, changing interests, her ongoing romance. How young and full of life we were. I couldn’t wait to show that letter to Carol—and to her husband, the same boyfriend she’d written about all those years ago.

I have a soft spot for letters, which is why they play a role in my soon-to-be-published novel, The God of Sno Cone Blue, part of which, the Prologue and First Chapter, I’ve made available for reading. But I digress!

More on Letters

My favorite letter of all time came at the perfect moment as far as I was concerned. I was in my 20s, a television reporter and a long way from home in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. The job was a great first step, but the pay stunk: 12,000 bucks a year, which, even by 1984 standards was lousy. I had no car and could barely afford rent and bus fare.

It was Friday night and many of my new coworkers were going out. Much as I wanted to join them, I couldn’t go with empty pockets. So, resigned to stay home, I wandered out to the mailbox where, oddly enough, I found a letter. I hardly ever got mail.

Tearing into it, I pulled out handwritten pages from my Grandma Bessie–and a fat 20-dollar bill. My grandmother didn’t have much and was rarely able to send anything, so the cash was completely unexpected. I read her sweet letter as I raced to join my friends, who, much of that evening endured details of my Grandma Bessie and her perfect timing.

How About You?

When’s the last time you got a letter, I mean the real, snail-mail version? These days, we hardly bother to write them. And why should we? We have email and Twitter, texts and instant messaging, which I doubt we’ll save in dusty boxes. It’s oh-so-convenient, but are we losing something in the process? What do you think?

Better yet, take a moment to tell the story of a letter—for better or worse—you received. I’d love to hear it.

6 thoughts on “Nostalgia for Letters

  1. I still have the cards and letters that my parents sent to me when I was away at college and very homesick for the first few weeks. Who knew I would be so homesick after being so anxious to strike out on my own at the age of 20! After I started working for several years, my company sent me away to live in Scotland. On my own in a foreign country with no friends I would spend hours in my flat writing letters. I kept a “log” of who I wrote to and who wrote back. I still have that log. When my parents passed away and we were going thru boxes of saved mail I found all the letters I had written to my parents while I was away. It’s fun to read them, it’s the journal of my Europe adventures that I did not keep. Thanks for the reminder Marcia, I am going to dig those letters out this weekend and read them. Heck, I may even sit down and write a letter to Andrew, the old fashioned way!

    • What a wonderful story, Edie. Those letters are a family legacy now with your parents both gone. They must have meant a lot to your mom and dad because they saved them! There’s so much we forget sometimes, even mood and sense of place, until we read what we wrote all those years ago… thanks for sharing.

  2. Living on the road for a long time, letters from home were few and far behind, sent by family in a big box to wherever we were hanging out for a week or so. We’d wait in anticipation for the box to arrive, then rush it back to the trailer and set it on the table. While I’d want to rip into it, my husband would make ceremony of the process. Sure, inside were most often bills and the few magazine subscriptions we waiting to run out, but once in a while was the precious letter from a grandparent, parent, friend, or sibling that would make us swoon with excitement. Still, the ceremonial examination of the box, which end to open first, the holding of the knife over the tape, the slipping it in and the sound of the slice across tape, paper, and cardboard, then the sawing noise as impediments were removed…and the pop of the box opening…ah, the memories.

    Thanks for reminding me of a time when mail meant more than a beep on my computer.

    • So true, Lorelle! There’s just something about opening an actual letter, right? The handwriting, the emotions expressed, the miles traveled to get to you. And you had a big box to go through! Glad you enjoyed the trip back.

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