Another Kind of Writing

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Today while rifling through my desk drawer I found in my desk a letter from my uncle dated 1963. More than a half century ago—but when I smoothed it out, Harry’s bold script danced out of the page as if it had been written yesterday. It spoke of everyday things and then—being Harry—he included a favorite quote and the news that he had begun to study astronomy. “As I become older,” my uncle wrote, “I feel the need to journey among about the stars.”

We are voyagers

Between distances or years…

Does it matter which?

When, I asked myself, did I stop writing letters? I used to love the process—finding a beautiful sheet of paper, a smooth-flowing pen, and a few moments to think and dream. Moments in which the recipient of the letter stood at my elbow, a space in time when we could talk and laugh about things inconsequential and matters of grave importance. All this—and when I folded the paper and sealed the envelope, I always felt a sense of happy anticipation.

Now, of course, there is the internet. So much  more convenient… and so easy to use. A few lines jotted down, bits of information, a joke or two, and off my message would go arriving (at least so I hoped) through the technological magic I could never understand, in someone’s e-mailbox. Task completed. Problem solved.

But looking at Harry’s letter touched chords that an e-mail message never could, and I wanted more. I searched again and here was another letter—this time from my other uncle, Joe.  This was the uncle with whom I had bicycled around Mt. Fuji’s largest lake. He had been a keen sportsman who had played rugby, tennis and soccer in his time and was always a passionate golfer. He had even tried to teach me the game, but hadn’t succeeded very well as I always lost balls, ended up in sand traps, or lost my temper. “Dear Hopeless,” his letter began—his pet name for me after the golfing fiascos– and I laughed and felt young again as I read the cheerful words he had dashed off.

Every letter that I had kept sang with the personality of the writer. My Dad’s letters were always to the point. Did I need money? Were things going well? And—“Study, but not too hard. Have fun, too.” My mother wrote of daily happenings, and her letters were mines of practical information dosed with humor. “Scandalized my very proper lady students today,” she once wrote. “The old rag-picker lady sauntered by as the ladies were leaving, and she hailed me… and of course I went over and shook hands and made sure she and her dog were doing well. One of my students gave me a funny look and said, ‘You have some odd friends, Mrs. Crane.’ And I said, ‘I choose my friends for who they are, not what they do.’”

Then, there were letters from friends. Some lost to death, some very much alive, they seemed to cluster around me as I opened the envelopes I’d tucked away. Some letters were funny and made me laugh anew; a few were poignant and took me to that place of sharing where only good friends can visit.  I re-read letters recoding births and marriages and the ones that spoke somberly of disease and trouble. Dark days, bright days… all were crystallized in words that cut across time. Then I came to the note that a friend had sent before her operation. “ I loved your last letter,” she began. “It gave me energy, so write again soon!”

I re-read all the old letters and then put the envelopes away, determined.  It was time that I looked for my favorite box of stationary again.

Plain sheet of paper

Filled with talk, tears, laughter…

A bit of myself.

 

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About Maureen C. Wartski

I’m Maureen Wartski, writer, artist, wife, mother, grandmother; you can see that I have many of the bases covered. I was born in Ashiya, Japan, a (then) small town which lay cradled between sea and mountains. In the evenings, we would walk along the road that ran past Osaka Bay, and a great moon would rise out of the water to turn the world to silver. I’m told that my first words were, “Big moon!” All my life I have felt the tug to write something, draw something, put together something with fabric, string and color, and the urge to create has grown through the years. I suppose, then, that it’s a natural thing that this blog be full of the things that so many of you enjoy doing…drawing, making something with fabric, and writing. Yuri's Brush with Magic, my newest book for middle schoolers follows the adventures of a brother and sister, the magic of words, and the incredible magic of the natural world. I'd love to hear from you! You can send me a note at: maureen@wartski.org/ My blog is here: https://maureenwartski.wordpress.com/ Or friend me on Facebook!

11 responses »

  1. As usual a lovely post, Maureen. Reminds me of the letters my father wrote go my mother when be was stationed in the Philippines before and during WWII. He never made it home, so the letters are precious connection to him. Emails are easily deleted and phone calls only hazy memories, but letters can be stored for future reading and generations. Sarah

    • Sarah, thank you for your words and for the story of your father… how tender and bittersweet such memories are. We think our thoughts on paper are insubstantial, but they so often form the only bridge we have to a loved one, a loved past. As I get older, I find that writing about thoughts and feelings are more important to me than writing fiction…

    • Isn’t it funny how we forget about those letters and then are reminded of so many, many things when we find them? Words are powerful. They can bring back the past and a rush of memories ….

  2. Emails are easily deleted and forgotten but letters are something you can read and re-read and remember. I saved all my love letters from my husband and drag them out sometimes to re-read. All those warm memories come rushing back!

  3. I, too, have letters that I keep and read and re-read. I’ve also kept some of the kids’ letters– from when they were little– and they makes me wonder where all the years have gone! Letters are powerful stuff, aren’t they?

  4. Beautiful post, Good reminder, Maureen. I wonder if we have too many ways of communication today–is that possible? So we have lost the ones that might really continue to touch us for years and years. My brother just spent HOURS copying my father’s letters to his parents during WWII. The total will come to over 800 pages–but what a glimpse into his life then. And what are we leaving for our kids? Thought provoking.

  5. Thank you, Carol… I use e-mail all the time, I blog, I facebook… and yet, somehow, it all seems to be transitory. The letters I’ve kept are substantial, written by hand, filled with the personality of the writer. E-mails can be printed out, sure, but they don’t have that magic quality! I think it’s wonderful that your brother is copying your father’s letters. What a treasure they are, indeed!

  6. Hi Maureen,

    Your blog reminded me of the letters regarding our youngest daughter Erika’s reluctant stay at overnight camps. The trove of letters both to and from her during one summer are carefully preserved in my care. I think she was 10 or 11 and made clear to me not just by her words but also through the use of punctuation and letter size just how emotionally overwrought she was. The cons (but also a few pros) were most emphatically stated. The memories evoked would be indescribable except that they are described in vivid detail! Can any of the modern media (perhaps except video) bring forth the memories and emotions of such letters? I think not. Thank you so much for reminding me to take out those missives to bring with me when I visit.

  7. Fran, I opened a book the other day and found a letter of YOURS! You wrote it when we had just moved to Raleigh, and I was in a state of abject mournfulness. It made me smile… it made me remember, and it made me reflect on how life shapes and changes us. Could an e-mail do that? Never! xxoo

    • Maureen, I would love to see that letter. Don’t you enjoy your own letters as well as others written to you when you have a chance to see them? It can be as if another person who had been you in another place and time is reconnecting?

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