The Lost Art of Letter Writing

I found myself in Wal-Mart over the weekend, with my usual grocery list.  But the really great thing (and likely my downfall) about Wal-Mart, is that you’re not just limited to Eggs and Cottage Cheese.  Shopping at Wal-Mart is all about 1-stop shopping.  However, it is my intent to stick to the list, so as to stay on task, and within my budget.  I have no idea HOW those Sun Chips jumped into my cart.

I decided to splurge on two sets of stationary for my girls.  They are studying proper friendly and business letter techniques in English, and I thought that if I got them some pretty stationary, it would make the task of learning all about the heading, body, and closing of a letter all that more attractive.

I searched in all the usual places.  Places that sort of made sense.  I perused the office supplies aisle, the party supplies aisle, and CLEARANCE (for good measure).  Nothing.  Finally I found two clerks chatting and I asked them where I could find Stationary.  They looked at me as though I had two heads.  One of them finally blinked and said, OH Stationary.  We haven’t carried that for about two years.

Really?

Yeah.  No one writes letters anymore.

And it occurred to me that she was likely right.  I know that I even stopped sending out Christmas letters, ever since Fiddledaddy set me up with this here blog and all.  All of my correspondence is done through e-mail.  Or FaceBook.  Or yelling out the front door.

I began to think about the art of letter writing.  The only way I was able to correspond with far away friends in my youth, as we kept moving around the country, was through letters.  I’m sure that at one point I kept up with no fewer than 10 friends, exchanging harrowing details of puberty and those awkward teenage years.  I had a cabinet stocked full of pretty stationary that I regularly used for my letter writing.  Oh.  And one lovely purple pen, replete with a purple feather on top.

This was of course before the invention of the internet.  And electric hair straighteners.  In other words, the dark ages.

I have boxes and boxes of those letters from childhood friends high up in the closet of my old bedroom in my dad’s house.  One of those dear childhood friends lost her battle with cancer about 11 years ago.  She and I began writing to one another when we were about 12, after I moved away, and we continued writing up until she died, some 27 years later.  During that time, she married young and had two beautiful boys.  I followed her life through a painful divorce, single motherhood, a remarriage, and finally her brave fight with a disease that eventually took her life.

It is my intention that the upon my next visit home, I’m going to retrieve those letters and send them to her boys, who are now grown men.  They will likely get some insight to a side of their mom they never were able to witness.

My mother and grandmother were fantastic letter writers.  I have boxes filled with letters that they both kept, spanning 30 years or so. Neither of them adhered to the proper rules of friendly letter writing, by including a date.  Or writing LEGIBLY, for that matter.  So I have been able to keep track of a time line only because they both kept the letters in the original envelopes.

This was a letter that I recently deciphered, written by my grandmother to my mother, as Nanny took care of a 2 year old me when my mother was too sick to care for me.  They lived about an hour away from one another, and they still wrote to one another daily.  As I read my grandmother’s letters, I can actually hear her voice, as she wrote very much like she spoke.  If it’s possible to write with a strong southern twang, she did it.  She always wrote in pencil, on lined paper, and left absolutely no available white space on her letters.  These letters are all precious to me.  And I’m certain that I will also keep them for my own children.

Much to my non-packrat husband’s chagrin.

I am not giving up.  I’m going to hunt down the elusive stationary at either Michael’s, Hobby Lobby, or even Office Depot.  My children will need to learn the art of letter writing, for there are many many future thank you notes to write, AHG pen-pal letters to exchange, and the requisite “I’m sorry for everything I ever put you through” letters of apology that I expect to receive in my old age.

Are you all letter writers, or have you succumbed, like me, to the ease of technology?

31 Responses to The Lost Art of Letter Writing

  • Oh its really a nice story of u on letter writing. I really loved it. Nowadays no one knows about letter writing. Seriously its a nice information u shared about writing a letter. Im in think of dat older days which i used to write a letter to my friends.

  • DeeDee, try Barnes and Noble. 🙂

    Blessings!

  • When we were kids,my mother insisted on thank you letters and we wrote them as soon as we could after receiving a gift. It was part of the gift itself somehow. I continued this with my kids . It was quite a surprise to me to discover other families did not do it too.
    One of my cousins has an album of family postcards/photos(1900-1920 ish) which were sent by post but had their own photographs for the front picture. On the back were written accounts of how the family were doing and even on some cards things like ‘will you come to tea on Saturday’ !
    I suppose there were so many letters written back then that there would have been 2 or 3 letter deliveries in a single day.

  • I was terribly unfaithful as a letter writer as a girl. If a friend moved away, we eventually just lost touch for lack of commitment on either part! But I do make my kids write thank you notes and they actually do it without a fight anymore!!

  • When I was growing up, I was required to write my grandparents in Tennessee (whom I only saw in the summer) once a week. On threat of death.

    My mom bought me the cutest stationery, in the form of card stock decorated with the things a growing child would love, that folded in thirds and was sealed with large round stickers in coordinating colors.

    I have been sitting here racking my lessthanhelpfulbrain and FINALLY remembered the name of the company whose catalogs I looked through endlessly, trying to find the perfect tri-fold card/letter/sticker packs to match ,y mood for sending to the grandparents and each of my many, many pen pals around the world (not to mention the two orphan Korean girls we sponsored through Compassion from when I was 4 until they ages out many, many years later and married). It was like Christmas several times a year. (And yes, that was one of the loooongest sentences ev.er.).

    Here is a link to their online Note Card catalog:

    http://www.currentcatalog.com/~Stationery~Note+Cards.html

    They have some cute things, some even come with stickers and can be personalized!

    Anyway, it’s almost 4am. I should probably try to get some sleep. But what fun would that be.

  • I too have succumbed to the lure of the internet! It’s so much easier. However I do still love stationary.

    Perhaps I’ll use it as wallpaper to decorate our living room?

  • If you ever have a coupon or gift card-Hallmark has some wonderful stationary!!! Try their clearance aisles!
    I too have wonderful letters that I’ve saved between my grandmother and I…she was the queen of writing letters…always marking the date she replied on the envelope. My sister sent them to me after she passed away a few years ago. Truly a treasure to me and my children…I think the rise of the internet, FB and “free” phone minutes have all but relegated letter writing to the back burner….but your post makes me want to go back and write some letters…

  • I have always loved writing letters! Had lots of different stationary and several “special” pens. The thrill of getting a letter in the MAIL was/is unmatched by anything! Hallmark was my place to get pretty stationary!

    Facebook has become my replacement for the volume of letters I used to write. Getting married and having kids really slowed my writing down. It truly is a joy to reconnect with people I’ve known since grade school! The added bonus is that a number of people I only “sorta” knew in high school have become very good friends. That’s priceless!

    In our MFW weekly outline, Friday is letter day. At first there was a LOT of whining and complaining from the children, especially when I told them they could not use the computer to type up the letter to print and mail! The first few weeks were very hard on ME!

    However, they have gotten into the groove and enjoy hearing back from the letter recipients. So, we’ve traded the “I don’t want to write a letter” whine for “is there anything in the mail for me?”. 🙂

    Rounding out the “win win” is the fact that I’ve made a few brownie points with the grandparents! 😀

  • Hallmark still carries stationery I think. I used to write letters to a variety of pen pals as a child. I still write short notes to various friends and family as the mood hits.

  • We write letters to Grandma a few times a month. I really like the idea of doing it on a sets day of the week though. It would definitely keep us in the habit. DeeDee, our WalMart here in AZ carries both stationery and a full section of blank notecards. Target usually has a full aisle of stationery as well. Good luck finding some, it’s always so much more fun to write on pretty stationery. Luckily, my boys think drawing a monster picture on one side of construction paper, before writing the letter, is the perfect kind of stationery. ha ha. I think Grandma likes it too.

  • You could also look up printable stationary and print out just what you want and get a greater variety without wasting anything. Or get them to help design something on the computer to make it really personal. I know that Word, in Office, offers stationary templates, but I think you have a Mac, iirc, so I’m not sure what you might have available.

  • If you scrapbook like I do, you can use cardstock to make cards. I do it all the time, and make my kids write all kinds of thank you notes to their ever-generous relatives. What a great post! You are so right about letter writing no longer existing. My family moved around the country alot, and I wrote all my friends faithfully for years till the advent of email. I saved all those letters from the 80’s till the early 90’s when I first got married, and suddenly found myself emailing my friends instead. Plus, I felt kind of silly saving letters like I did when I was in high school. When one of my lifetime friends passed away a couple of years ago, though, I was so happy that I had saved all those letters. I pulled all hers out and reread them all, laughing and crying through them. Unfortunately, with computers being the way they are, we have updated our computers and email systems many times through the years, and have lost all our old emails. I so wish I could go back and reread all the emails my friend and I sent through the early parts of our marriages, children, etc.. It definitely has made me thankful that I was born during an earlier generation, and that I now have all those letters saved. I am slowly making copies of them for my friend’s husband and children, because I can’t bear to part with them myself. Thanks for the great post!

  • When my husband’s grandparents were “courting,” Pop and Granny wrote letters back and forth for years while Pop was in the service. A couple of years ago, after they both passed, J’s mom and aunt put all the letters in chronological order, had them copied and bound and gave a set to each of the grandchildren. It’s so cool to have a record of that time in their lives.

    I had several long distance friends in HS with who, I kept in contact through writing letters. One of them, Emily, always sent me her letters in super cool homemade envelopes. Emily was always about 65% cooler than me. I wish I knew how to get in touch with her today.

  • Michael’s often has some notecard or stationery in their $1 bins. I never write letters now though..just texts, e-mails and Facebook posts…it’s a lost art!

  • I would definitely check Hallmark, Barnes and Noble, and craft stores, but don’t rule out thrift stores. You can usually find some there because it is a lost art 😉 !

  • You have GOT to check out http://www.stationerystore.com It has the cutest stationery and, especially for kids, you can personalize them and they are just. so. stinkin. cute. 🙂

    And yes, I love love love letter writing – alas, other than thank you notes, I don’t do much of it anymore… blogs, facebook, and quick texts have taken the place of real communication sometimes. But I do have letters that my Australian penpal and I exchanged all through jr high/high school/college until we lost contact… and they are precious to me.

  • Letter writing might be a lost art, but it most certainly is not a skill that should be passed over.

    Thanks for giving us something to work on this summer! (Adding this to the to-do list of “summer school” activities.)

  • I had the same experience when trying to find stationery last fall! I looked everywhere, and finally found some at Target. I don’t write letters as much as I should, but I’m trying to get better about it. My 4 1/2yo loves to mail things, so I’m trying to teach her the basics of letters and mail. I’m pretty sure her out-of-town grandparents appreciate getting her drawings and notes!

  • I am afraid that as far as close friends and family go e-mails and FB are the way we tend to communicate. However, I do write letters, by hand, to our military as a member of Soldiers’ Angels, and I love to send cards and notes of encouragement, holidays, etc., so those are also handwritten.

    If you’re comfortable with your children writing to our military, this would give them a great opportunity to practice their handwriting/letter writing. 🙂 And, help our 1340 soldiers who are waiting to be adopted. SA is on FB now, so you can sign up there if you wish.

    I think it’s really sad that letter writing has become a “lost art.” I remember buying stationary as a young girl, and receiving it as gifts. I love the pretty paper and matching envelopes. I even remember the stationary “kits” they had when I was young. The ones where you wrote the letter and then folded it over and closed it with a sticker. The lines for addresses were there on the back, so it became it’s own “envelope” as well. 🙂 (I really dated myself there.) 😉

    I have been able to find make shift stationary in the computer paper section in stores. They do have decorated printer paper/colored paper that works nicely, as well as decorated envelopes. Or colored envelopes were as well.

  • I got a letter recently from one of my student’s grandmothers. She said that something I had done in the classroom with her grandson “sent her straight to her stationary box to write me a thank-you letter”. It made me want a stationary box! I have always written letters and still do…all the time. It’s the way I keep up with family, former students and old friends. (And PS: You should add persuasive letters to your letter writing lessons. My students just sent persuasive letters to our principal and convinced her of something I NEVER thought she’d agree to. The power of the pen in action.)

  • I don’t write any long letters, but I do still send notes to friends. Something about a handwritten note that someone takes the trouble to address and stamp and mail is just pretty special. I hope it’s not going to fade away entirely. I think that would be pretty sad.

  • I have many letters that were written to me when I was younger..from relatives/friends etc. There is something about the cute paper and the pretty handwriting that always made me thrilled to open the envelope and see what was inside. But sadly now, I just shoot out an email. I am thankful for how instant it is…but I miss the excitement of opening letters.

  • I had pen pals as a child and love that my kids write to their cousins fairly often. There is something wonderful about waiting for a letter to arrive.

    I get frustrated looking for stationery in stores, too. Often I will make my own using scrapbook paper and a pretty border punch. (Very economical!) I’ve also found several boxes of vintage stationery at garage sales.

    Believe it or not-there is an online resource for adults who still like to write letters – we’re not the only ones left! I have found two pen pals through “The Letter Exchange” and they publish a catalog three times a year of people who like to write and receive letters. People write short descriptions of the things they are interested in and you can look for someone that matches your interests. They are very up front about their service not being a place for people to write “singles” ads. It is for people seeking old-fashioned pen pals. The subscription to the catalog is $23 or something. This is their web site:

    http://www.letter-exchange.com

    Just thought I’d pass that along to anyone who might be interested. I LOVE getting letters from my pen pals in the mail. Makes me feel like I’m 12 again . . .

  • Barns & Nobel has some nice hand made stationary. I love those. I have a friend that loves them too so I will get her some and send them as a “I miss you” gift. It’s so nice to have something with the hand writing of loved ones. Something about seeing how they formed the letters, the spaces, how big they wrote or if the even dotted all the “i’s” and crossed all the “t’s”.

  • My lifelong BFF and first cousin and I diligently wrote each other letters from the time we could write until, well, we’ll occasionally break out the pen and ink and write one now. Almost exclusively on notebook paper. During the teenage years, we wrote each other multiple times weekly. It’s so much fun to go back and read those now. But aside from that, i have succumbed to the email. You can probably find stationary (ery?) at Office Max. But honestly, I think it’s probably designed to be fed into a printer.

    • Yay! Someone finally mentioned the (ary) (ery) spelling! Stationary means unmoving.
      Stationery is writing paper for letters.

      Spelling police… sorry.

  • My daughter has a pen pal, and they write to each other regularly. Hailey is always watching the mailbox. They are so cute to watch.

    I, on the other hand, have very bad experiences with letters, because my abusive mother uses them for her tool of abuse. I have been ripped apart many, many times by venomous epistles written in her scrawling handwriting.

    This is why I have a notebook for each of my children full of letters of encouragement and love. Little notes written in moments of tenderness, which will be given to them when they marry.

    I was thinking of starting new notebooks for each of us. They would be letters to each other. I could write to them, give them their notebook and they could answer or write to another family member and pass it along. This way, when we have something we want to say, but don’t know how to say it face to face, we have an outlet of communication that is more comfortable, and less confrontational.

  • I have to say I have succumbed to the emailing and facebook method, but I have found some really nice stationary at many of the Chrisitan book stores…. you might check them out.

  • I have found stationary at Ross. And my homeschooled girls (11 and 8) love writing letters. Email me if your girls need pen pals, lol.

  • I don’t know how the number eight turned into a smiley face with sunglasses, sorry about that. And I just read all the comments and realized I misspelled stationery. Sorry about that, too.

  • I was a huge letter writer “back in the day”. I had at least 7 international pen-pals at any given time, and many stateside pen-pals as well.
    I’ve totally given it up, for technology. The ease, the speed, and the ecological benefits were all BIG reasons for me to give up letter writing. . .
    I don’t miss it. I’m not sentimental about it, or nostolgic for it. . .it was a means of communication, and I found a better way.