Monday, February 16, 2009


Three times a week, I drive to the post office to pick up the mail. After I throw away the retail fliers and tuck the letters into my purse, I head back home or to a coffee shop to work some more. But wherever I land, the letters will be read first. In this day of email and Facebook, a letter is a gift I'm always eager to open.

Before I wrote fiction, I was a letter writer. The passion started when I was ten and received a letter from my great-grandmother. She became my first pen pal. A few months later my only friend on the base where we lived moved away. Cheryl was a couple of years older than me and her letters reflected the life of a girl entering high school. They were fascinating and funny. I guess my letters seemed skimpy next to her juicy accounts of her older sister's dating escapades. I was, after all, a sixth grader who saw the world from the seat of my three speed bicycle. What could I tell her that would compare to her new exciting life in Florida?

One day I received a letter from Cheryl that had about a dozen questions. She closed the letter by stating, "Now if you answer all the questions I've sent you, you'll have written a long interesting letter." Cheryl had taught me an important lesson in letter writing. A letter is a window into someone's world.(As a side note, Cheryl ended up in the first class of women to attend and graduate from the Navy Academy in Annapolis.)

My letter writing continued and since we moved a lot, my list of pen pals grew. In college my dad rationed my long distance phone calls to one every two weeks. This was years before cell phones and the Family and Friends plan. Many mornings I started off my day writing home.

I went through a letter writing dry spell after college and lost track of a few important friends. Years later when we moved to Houston, I picked up the habit again. By then I was a young mom, working as a self-employed(lousy) freelance interior decorator. Each morning I wrote letters for two hours. I reconnected with old friends and stayed in touch with more recent ones.

During this time period, I learned how letter writing can not only keep friendships alive, but the simple act could bring people to a more meaningful level. When I learned one of my friend's mother was dying, I wrote to her. I received a letter from her a week later, expressing how touched she was that I'd taken the time. Our letters continued. We visited each other, becoming closer friends. I'm convinced it was because of pen and paper.

Shortly after that, I began to write stories. The time I'd devoted to letter writing was spent developing characters and dreaming up plots. Eventually I got a computer and Internet service. There's no denying it, email has probably helped us stay in touch with each other more than any other device. We can do something and a moment later someone from around the world can know we just did it. The thought of that is amazing to someone, like me, who remembers using a six-cent postage stamp.

Still, I miss the romance of letter writing. The lingering moments when I'm trying to think of the next word rather than dashing off a quick hello via email. I've tried to keep some of that ritual in my life, but these days folks are more likely to get a short note from me than they are to receive a long letter. And I hate admitting this, but sometimes I've taken months(Okay, even a year, but that's because I misplaced it) to answer some of my reader mail. Believe me, that's no reflection on the letter. I never want answering to seem like a chore. So I wait for that right moment when my head is clear and my thoughts are focused on that person. When that happens, I sit in a comfortable chair with pen in hand and begin by writing that rare lovely word--Dear.


  1. As a postal worker, I wish more people were letter writers then I wouldn't have to endure so many budget constraint talks at work.

    But I'm as guilty as anyone of not writing letters.

  2. It's so interesting that you mentioned that, Travis. I was pondering about how postal workers today probably get excited when they see a real letter.

    Please don't answer this, but I'm curious if postal workers read the back of postcards. I don't know how they could help not doing so.

    Thanks for stopping by. I'll have to see what's going on at My Town Monday.

  3. I love unfolding the voice of a friend! Once, I was a letter writer but have allowed the habit to fall to the side. I so enjoy getting good, long letters that share a day, an episode, an incident. When I write letters, I have to determine that I have enough to write and not just tease my reader-friend. I even love the oh-so-short letters inside books, wishing someone happy graduation or birthdays or travels. I find it hard to pass up books with those inscriptions -- and any books of letters. I will look for some you posted!

  4. Dear Kimberly...the site is beautiful congratulations! So much good stuff here! I do hope letter writing is not a lost art. It is so precious and wonderful! To get a letter is so much fun! i have 2 pen pals, both of them over 90 years old. My great grandmother was also my pen pal until she died. She even told me once that if my handwriting stayed sloppy she would stop writing to me, that i need to " clean it up"! I have our boys each write a letter to someone, anyone on the weekends...just to form this good habit.
    thank you for sharing your thoughts and inspirations with all of us!!
    Tracy Porter

  5. TexMetsFan--I'm so with you on messages in books or even better, found letters and notes tucked between the pages. When I was visiting Bonnie Slotnick Cookbooks, Bonnie and I found out we shared a love for such treasures. We ooh and ahhed over a soap recipe written decades ago. Of course, If bought the book! And a used book means more to me when it includes a description. I catch myself wondering about that person.

    Dear Tracy--thank you for stopping by my place. May I pour you a cup of tea?

    I love that your penpals are in their 90's. Oh, what stories. And the fact that you are teaching your boys to write letters regularly is such a lovely ritual. Bravo! (I've been the lucky recipient of those letters.)
    Letter writers unite!

    By the way, everyone, Tracy will be our first Artist at Home. She is also a writer. Please do check out her inspirational blog.

  6. well my dearie,

    I do love a good letter!

    Can you tell me Cheryl's "questions I've sent you, you'll have written a long interesting letter." ?



  7. Oh, goodness, Mary. That was a long time ago. But I do remember that she asked specific questions about what was going on in my life--with school and family and the base.

    Thanks so much for stopping by A Pen and a Nest. I hope you will return.

  8. Dear Momma,

    I will try my best to find some stamps.



  9. Hi. I've been writing to pen pals since 1985 (I was 15). I'm 38 now & still love writing. It takes me longer to write back these days, but I could never give it up. It's 1 of my fave hobbies & I run down everyday to get the mail all excited, wondering what I will find when I open the mailbox. I hate Sundays & holidays because of no mail. haha. I'm always looking for more pen pals if anyone is interested. E mail me for my address.

  10. Dear Shannon, you're so funny, but of course, I always welcome a letter from you!

    Kimberly, Thanks for dropping by. I love that you developed long term friendships from your pen pals. And I relate to your anticipation at the mailbox. It's nice to know people like you are keeping this ritual alive.