I love to write letters!

I love to write letters! While I couldn't be counted as a "woman of letters, " I come from a long family of letter writers. My mother was one of seven letter- writing sisters who went through college in the gay nineties. As the sisters married and were scattered around the country, they kept their firm bond of sisterhood going with a circle letter. It finally reached such proportions that it traveled in a shoe box. It was filled not only with letters, but clippings, pictures, recipes, original poetry, and other items of interest. It was a great day when it arrived and it usually took a couple of weeks to read, digest, and answer. This way I came to know my aunts and cousins very well, though I never met all of them.

My father's business took him away from home frequently, and my letters to him began before I learned to read or write. I would dictate letters for my mother to enclose with hers and usually added pictures I had drawn.

My father obliged by sending me "picture letters" in return. "Though it has been over 60 years ago, I can still remember one of his letters that vividly portrayed his dinner at a hotel when he ws served a green salad that contained a large caterpillar half hidden under a lettuce leaf.

Letter writing in the days of my childhood was much more satisfactory than telephoning. Long-distance calls took time to place through several operators. Voices would fade or get cut off completely and one had to shout or repear a message -- an ordeal compared with today's efficient telephone system.

Telegrams, on the other hand, were reserved for only the most urgent or doleful matters and were opened with trepidation. I can still see my mother standing quietly, mentally preparing herself to open a telegram.

By the time I was in fourth grade I was a veteran letter writer. One day our teacher assigned, as a lesson a letter. It was to describe ourselves to someone who would meet us at a train station. Someone who had never seen us before.

For the first time in my young life I backed off and took a good look at myself. It was hilarious. There was a gangling girl with long pigtails. A girl with a short upper lip that couldn't cover a mouthful of ugly braces.

There was much more. My luggage, for my school letter, would include two bird cages, one for my pet canary and the other for my kitten.

Alas, the teacher was not amused and I had to write a new lesson. I still don't see how anyone could have missed me from my description. t thought all families wrote letters to one another until I married into a very nice family of people who never wrote a letter when they could use the telephone. When I compared my telephone bills with the cost of stamps, I went right back to being a "letter" person.

People that don't like to write letters puzzle me. What better way to say "I love you" or "I'm thinking about you" than with a letter. I bombard my grown children with letters.

Of course there are other sorts of letters to be written, like those "to the editor" or to one's congressman. Those letters should be brief, clear, without rancor, and written from the best of motives.

No letter should ever be written in anger. If you are filled with righteous indignation, and simply must get it down on paper, go ahead. But don't mail it for awhile. Put it in the refrigerator for a few days. By then both you and the letter will have cooled off, and chances are it will either be rewritten or not sent.

The penny postcard was one of the best letter-writing devices ever invented. It gave no one an excuse for not writing. When I taught school and lived away from hom for some years, my mother and I kept up a stream of penny postcards. It taught me to write with brevity and clarity. With a fine pointed pen and small writing, a great many things could be said. I think the mailman enjoyed them, too. He would read them as he came up the walk, and sometimes remind me what my mother had said.

Now that I am alone, and my children live hundreds of miles away, I find letter-writing even more important. I have pen friends aged 9 to 90 and I cherish every one of them.

I just love to write letters. m

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