Letter to the Editor

The joy of letters

Monday, November 24, 2003

Dear Editor,

People who know me well and have read (my book) "Letters for the Literate" are used to my being up on the soapbox, preaching about the importance of family history and urging my audience to write letters. Please bear with me one more time as the holidays approach.

Christmas form letters have been roundly criticized, but I remember how Marv and I looked forward to getting them. My mother sent valentines, St. Pat's cards, Easter greetings, Mother's Day notes, wedding congrats, Halloween cards, Thanksgiving greetings, and warm Christmas letters to people she thought needed remembering. A favorite student of mine, Char Rudke Hamilton, has called our attention to the young people serving our country. A letter from us would be a cherished day-brightener.

In my home office I have three four-drawer file cabinets. Clearing away outmoded business communications is an ongoing process. I finally tossed most of my collection of old-fashioned teaching materials. (It was almost like throwing out my children.) During my last foray into the files, I lingered over a letter from my precious niece Mary Lou. (You may have met her in my book.)

A master teacher, she had shared with me the sorrow of losing her beloved Uncle Marvin and her father 12 days later. What she says in her letter, it seems to me, is too important to keep buried in a file. So I'm sharing it:

It has not occurred to me before how truly important letters are. As I have read through your writing, I have once again reconstructed memories of people, places, events, and wonders that been lost for many years. Or perhaps I did not know about some of them because I was too young to have established a connection. I also have recently come across cards and letters from my parents.

As I held my mother's perfect Palmer penmanship in my hand, I could feel the things about her that are now long gone and even hear her love in words written, but never spoken. My father's letters, often very eloquent, also remind me of his love that even the sadness and circumstances of death can never undo. You are right --without those letters to hold and re-read, however often or infrequently -- I would have lost a part of my identity. I wonder now about the marvels of technology. I have read that the computer will take its place among the life-changing inventions of all time -- similar to fire, the wheel, electricity, and --oddly enough -- paper. Although I am forced to use e-mail at work, I loathe it and all that it represents. I also despise voice mail. Both of these great communication devices have stolen the human warmth of a voice on the phone or the importance of words on paper. I can give and receive directives without having to look someone in the eye. Through voice mail, a parent can tell me that Carlton will not be in school because he is covered with chicken pox; and I cannot say how sorry I am and offer his mom my motherly advice from experience. Your book, dear Aunt Mary Ellen, has opened my eyes to something that I probably would not have thought about until it was too late.

I shall begin this summer to write one letter a week to Matt and MeeJung. I have not done much writing, as a phone call brings their voices to me. I want them to hold me in their hands when I can no longer speak and tell them of what their lives have meant to me. I will want their children to know that their grandmother loved words and the joy and mystery letters can carry from one generation to another. I want them to hold my letters after they have finished reading them and remember a time, a place, a wonder that might otherwise have slipped away. I want them to know how I loved them even as they grow old.

So I thank you for teaching me another lesson. I wish that I could hand-write my letter in my not-so-perfect penmanship. I bow to the computer on this point. What would I, a non-speller, do without spell-check?

Mary Ellen Goodenberger


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