The Value of Letters: by Crystal

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The first word my granddaughter, Ayla, said was “up”.  I am sure she had her hands raised up, and her blue eyes wide open in front of her mom when she said it.  The first word my daughter Elizabeth said was Hi! And she pretty much demanded everyone to say HI back.  She would repeat it until they said it.  She was very cute, with soft blonde curls, and big blue eyes; and people liked her almost instantly.

            I don’t know what my first word was.  I don’t think my mom remembered.  She might have written it in a letter. My mom wrote letters often, first with her fountain pen, which made stains on her fingers.  Later she used a ball point pen, probably made by those geniuses at BIC.  I know my mom was very impressed by those new pens, but I missed her writing with her fountain pen.  I missed watching her changing the cartridge.  I seem to remember blue ink and not black.  She wrote letters on her wooden desk, with dark colored wood, possibly cherry or walnut. On the desk was a blotter, made from a stiff fabric, or some type of paper that is like fabric. That made it easier for her to write, and also absorbed the ink that went through the stationery.  Eventually it would get very stained with ink, and ripped up. So, my Dad would buy her a new one.  She had loads of stationery mostly in white and pastel colors.  Some sheets were illustrated with flowers like daisies, tulips or roses along the top or on the edges.  Some had roses on the page that were faded so you could write over them.  I often bought stationery for her birthday and Christmas presents. 

            She started many of her letters with “Hi” after the Dear Who-ever, and then followed with “I hope you are well”.   Some of the letters she wrote were 12 pages long. My mom prayed for people, and was always trying to cheer people up, and/or make them laugh.

            She liked postage stamps with flowers, birds and famous people, that she admired.  It astounded her when the price of stamps kept rising.  I remember her being especially upset when it went up to 13 cents.  My mom would tell us she remembered when the mail was delivered twice a day, in the morning and the afternoon, when she was growing up in Kenosha, Wisconsin. We lived in the Roseland area of Chicago when I was very young. I remember that one of my parents’ friends delivered the mail.  Another one of their friends delivered the milk to our house.  She would talk to them for a few minutes when they came.  The world seemed like a friendlier, more caring place then.

            Letters were how people communicated.  Cards, postcards and letters and bills made up most of the mail.  My parents told us they fell in love through their letters.  They met at a USO in Kenosha, and the very next day my dad was ordered to go overseas to the Philippines. They didn’t see each other for almost two years, but wrote letters often.

            It seems to me like people received letters and cards faster in those days.  Packages took longer.  Telegrams were fast, but usually meant death or illness, so no one wanted to receive one.

            Getting a letter was something to look forward to.  You stopped what you were doing to read about what someone else was doing.  During WWII letters were censored.  My mom’s whole family read my father’s letters.  They got to know him well through his words before they met him after the war.                                                                                                                         I too correspond with family and friends through letters and cards.  I have a friend from grade school who sends me letters and cards.  She hand writes them, sometimes on small pieces of paper.  My cousin writes with pencil on notebook paper, just like we did when we were children.  I write inside cards, but type letters on the computer.  Another friend types letters to me on an old typewriter.  It reminds me of my small beige manual typewriter I took with me to Bradley University. I would type so fast; the keys would jam.  My roommate, Debra, who I also still write to, called me flying fingers.  I miss the sound of the keys sometimes.  It was like playing an instrument, but instead of producing music, I produced writing.  Research papers, short stories and poetry came out of that typewriter, to be read and graded by Professors with red pens.

            I sometimes email people, but it seems less personal and more public.  You don’t touch the paper.  You don’t sign your name or fold the paper to fit it in the envelope.  You don’t seal the envelope, or place a colorful stamp, or address label on it.  Somehow knowing that the person receiving a letter from me will touch the envelope, open it, and pull out and read the letter, makes me feel closer to them.

            We have the letters that my mom and dad wrote to each other during WWII.  You can almost feel the love and excitement they had when they received those letters.  My father longed to come home, to be with family and friends.  My mother wanted to see my father, and look into his eyes, and know that he was O.K. despite the war.  They are both gone now, but their words, because of their letters, are still with us.

Ron: Keep checking our site. Exciting news about our book publication will come soon.

Some wartime letters between Crystal’s mom and dad.
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