The Special Delight of Old Letters


Thin, almost transparent airmail paper, aerogrammes, thick pale blue Basildon Bond paper, birthday cards, Christmas cards, cards of sympathy, of congratulations.

Old blotched typeface (my father’s big typewriter), elegant penmanship (my grandfather and my godmother), easy-to-read rounded script (teacher aunt). Upright but fast-flowing writing (my mother). Indecipherable squiggles (my father). Letters of the alphabet slanting forward, slanting back, flattened, rounded…IMG_4633

A bundle of letters written in code by my grandparents during the time my grandfather was at the Russian Front in World War I. I’ve tried and tried to break the code. Why am I keeping a stack of letters I can’t even read?

I keep these old cards and letters in a wooden writing box that once belonged to my husband’s mother.

Inside the box is a lift-out pen tray and a place for an inkwell. It opens into a writing surface – useful if I wanted to write with the box on my lap.


There’s a couple of letters from the ’40s from my newly married refugee-father in England to his brother in the U.S. In one he describes how, in lieu of rent, he and my mother had to push their large landlady through the small doorways of the cottage.

My father’s writing was always hard to read. But I recognize it immediately and only have to see it to conjure him up, his smile, his jokes, his gleam of anticipation as he launched into a story or some complicated philosophical theory.

I look at my mother’s handwriting and hear her talking, feel her energy as she gets everyone organized.IMG_4631

Will we enjoy our emails and e-cards of today in the same way?

Will they even  exist in twenty years? In thirty years? Change a computer, change software, and poof! All gone.

I suppose emails could be printed out. I’ve printed out hundreds of my daughter’s emails. But looking at an email isn’t the same as looking at handwriting – not even with a truckload of emoticons.

I suppose you could say, oh yes, my mom always used Chalkboard font – but there’s not the specificity or immediacy of an individual behind a font.

Will the children and adults of the future not know the special delight of discovering long forgotten letters? Of recognizing a loved one’s handwriting? Of being able to conjure up instantly dear ones long gone, the child now an adult, old school friends, early loves?



(The Daily Post Photo Challenge: Alphabet)


2 thoughts on “The Special Delight of Old Letters

  1. Yes, I hear you. I don’t think they will ever feel the same about old letters and postcards. It’s sad. But then again I suppose they will remember times gone by in their life just the same, just with different triggers. Thanks for this post 🙂


    • That’s true. You’re right. It’ll be interesting to see what the triggers will be – photos uploaded to Facebook? I’m sure people will still keep those odd little bits and pieces in shoe boxes as mementos. I hope so anyway!


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