On December 29, 2013, the Los Angeles Times featured an op-ed piece by Simon Garfield titled: “A Love Letter to the Love Letter,” in which the author extolled letter writing with pen and paper over texts, tweets, Facebook postings and other quick-and-dirty communications preferred these days.
When I was young, my mother encouraged me (okay, forced me) to write thank-you letters for gifts I’d received. When I got older and moved away from home, she and I regularly exchanged letters. I have kept many of her letters, which convey newsy information written in her careful handwriting.
Letter writing is a lovely idea. Years ago, a friend and I decided to resurrect the personal letter by limiting our communication exclusively to handwritten snail-mail. We didn’t get very far with that and I’ve since lost touch with her. I haven’t ditched the personal letter idea entirely. The hostess of a dinner party I’ve attended still receives a handwritten thank you note from me, but most of my correspondence has drifted into the electronic category.
When my mother died, she left a box of letters written to her by my dad when he was in the Army during WWII. They were newlyweds, so I suppose you could classify them as love letters. I can’t say because I have never read them. To do so seems like an invasion of her privacy.
Many of the letters are stamped with “Passed by U.S. Army Examiner,” and include a number of the examiner who cleared them for mailing. Some letters are V-mail (short for Victory Mail, a concept we borrowed from the Brits), carried in small brown envelopes (4.75” x 3.75”) that sport this return address:
WAR & NAVY DEPARTMENT
Also included in the box with the letters is a War Department booklet dated August 1945 titled GOING BACK TO CIVILIAN LIFE, a rosary, a Childs Prayerbook: Instructions and Prayers for Catholic Children and a small spiral notebook in my dad's handwriting that he must have carried with him. It includes a list of items in his dufflebag and other cryptic notes I find intriguing.
I always knew the letters were in my mother's possession. She occasionally talked about them and once told me that censors had redacted parts of some correspondence when my dad had inadvertently revealed too much information about where he was at the time. When my dad died, she talked about burning the letters, but she never did, nor did she instruct me to do so for her.
The letters are part of history, but what place should they hold? I feel as if I’m caught in a Bridges of Madison County moment. What should I do with them? Shred? Read?
No handwritten responses required.