Thursday, June 17, 2010

a letter: a time capsule: a treasure: { a dying art }


Mom called me one afternoon months and months ago wondering what she should do with this box of old letters she had found in the back shed that belonged to me.  I knew she was wanting them out of there, but I couldn't have her just chuck 'em in the garbage before I could go through them.  It seemed wrong.

One day while I was home in Houlton making my bed in Mom's guestroom I noticed two small paper bags taped up hastily with packing tape and shoved under the bed... I supposed they were waiting for me.

Since we were in my hometown for only 5 days there was simply no time.  Visiting was at the top of the list, then knitting with Mom in the evenings after Astrid went to bed.  Then there was that headache that set in...

When I was in the process of packing all our stuff in Mom's car to go down to Southern Maine I was sort of grumbling to myself as I balanced Astrid in one arm and ran in and out of the house carrying all the crap we seem to need when we travel... I should just toss these silly thingsThere's just no room.  But then I proceeded to throw them in underneath Mom's bag, some golf clubs, our huge rolling bag, the carry on, the portacrib, and the booster seat.  Maybe I'll get a chance to look at them once we lite somewhere, I figured.

I didn't find much time to go through these letters until we were on a roadtrip through Massachusetts (to Rhode Island) to my cousin Patrick's wedding on a Saturday morning.


I'm not sure why Jeff was driving, or how I ended up in the navigator's seat... but with the horrible directions we got, it was a very bad idea.  Mostly it was just a bad idea that I had my head in a bag of letters reading them aloud as we drove South.

Needless to say we veered off course a couple of times in our journey.  Long story short we got there, on two wheels, mind you, with not a minute to spare, and thankfully the wedding was running a little late.

It was an unexpected delight reading those letters, for everyone in the car (well, except maybe Astrid).  The timeframe was 1992-1997 (my college years and one year freshly out of school...just before I headed West), and a few from my high school years (1988-1992).  Every letter I read aloud was a one-sided conversation; sometimes a report, sometimes a stream of consciousness, a working through something, a plan to meet.  Each was a complete work of art.  The way each particular writer's pen hit that paper was charming...  some letters carefully curled this way or that, some scribbled with wreckless abandon in what seemed to be an effort to spit a thought out on paper before it was lost to the writer forever, some tiny print, some large and confident, and some with drawings on the letter and elaborate decoration on the envelope.

Because so many years had passed since I read them I appreciated them in a completely different way.  Letters are pretty simple all you need is a pen and paper...  but it's the love affair between these two things when utilized by different people that intrigues me.

Who knew that we would be so connected today with cheaper long distance rates, cell phones, texting, emailing, instant messaging, facebooking, and blogging that when we receive a letter it is revered and treasured?  When I visit the post office to check our box, I won't lie, I scan the pile of junk mail for a handwritten letter, or a personal card.  Don't you?

Although these letters were one sided conversations, Mom, Genevieve and I had no trouble filling in the blanks of what was going on at that time in our lives.  That is the part that made it interesting for all of us...what was brought up for conversation.  Jeff really enjoyed it too. Astrid took pleasure in the escalation and high notes of excitement our converstations would hit when we read and remembered certain things.  We shared many laughs and memories, and it was one of my favorite parts of the trip.

I read a lot of letters from Mom and Genevieve while I was in school since they were the most relevant to those in the vehicle.  The letters from my sister were about boys she met in college, the friends she had made that first semester at UMF, roommate issues, and some of her deepest 19-year-old secrets she might only tell her sister.

The biggest single writer in my collection was Mom.  The letters from Mom were so amazing.  They were filled with real life at the Smith household in my hometown of Houlton (4 hours North of where I was, and what seemed like a world away).  I loved reading those letters while I was in the dorms.  I loved her descriptions, her reports, her drawings and dreams written down for me.

Here are a few I scanned in:


I scanned this one since it is a RARE find.  Dad rarely wrote us letters.  Frank told me that Dad wrote him one when he was a freshman in college and at risk of getting kicked out because he was goofing off so much.  Dad wrote him something to straighten him out.  I'm sure it spoke volumes since Dad just didn't write very often.

This is an excerpt from one of Mom's letters.  This was a long 4 page letter.  Picked up and written on for a few days...and then sent.

Just another one that made my heart skip a beat since I saw it was in Dad's pen....alas, he had just addressed the envelope.  Not sure what was inside originally ~ a forwarded letter, a bill, something from the University.

This is an excerpt from a letter from Gram when her hands didn't hurt to write... some words of advice that I needed to hear.

This one is from fellow blogger and old college friend, Dietlind. I imagine that is her under the tree pondering.  She has just recently moved back to Maine from San Francisco. Photobucket

Some of my favorite things about these letters were the P.S.'s...  Some were apologies for the bad handwriting, a last minute thought, or an "I love you".



1 comment:

Meagan said...

This post is so dear Elizabeth. It brought me back...I still have 3 ring binders out in the garage with every note and letter ever written to me. I have a whole binder just for the notes and letters from Katie in high school! I am so happy you saved them. It is grounding and helpful to look back at these, sometimes painful, but I have found some answers in 20 year old letters. I love that you are writing to Astrid, I started out writing a letter to Ava once a month in her first year, and like you, have been so busy that I haven't kept that up. Thank you for reminding me to slow down and write Ava more someday letters. I owe you a hand written letter! I only stop by on the computer now and again, but I think of you often!