Friday, May 21, 2010

Letter Writing

These stacks of paper represent 21 years of my life. My husband and I moved to Ecuador, South America in 1981. I was 6 1/2 months pregnant; our eldest daughter was born 2 months after our arrival. There was no internet. The tiny jungle hamlet we lived in had one phone that rarely worked and a call to Canada cost more than $5.00 per minute. Letter writing was our contact with home.

I wrote letters constantly. Long epistles to our parents, chronicling for them the daily routines and the small milestones of their grandchildren's lives, the sometimes funny and sometimes tragic clashes with culture, and the joys and sorrows of everyday life. Shorter, less frequent letters were written to siblings and friends. I wrote at least one letter, or part of a letter, every day.

Receiving letters was the most exciting part of my day. I walked down to the plaza first carrying a baby, then holding a toddler's hand to ask Noemi, the postmistress, if there was any mail. When I saw my mother's handwriting, or my mother-in-law's, I knew I had a treat in store. They wrote long newsy letters back, filling us in on the world that was so very far away.

I didn't keep the letters I received. I wish I had. But a few years ago, Tim's mom told me that she had all my letters. Last summer she gave them to me. Over a period of several months, I took them out one by one and read them, remembering, laughing, crying. Memories and emotions rushed back through time. I read things that had passed from my conscious memory.

Even after I started emailing instead of writing, Mum printed out the emails and kept them. These letters are a treasure to me. My children think I should write a book about our life there. And maybe, some day I will. It would be something for my grandchildren to know how their parents were raised, so far away, in a land so different from Canada.

Today in the UK is National Letter Writing Day. It's a lost art, but one that has value. Do you have letters you're keeping?


  1. Hi Lorrie - this post struck such a chord, as I too lived in foreign countries when each of my children was small - twice in Germany and twice in the USA, where Oklahoma seemed quite foreign! My sister and I wrote several times a week, for many years. About 10 years ago we talked about those letters and realized that we'd both saved all of them - so we did a swap! I have all of my letters, describing our life and the stages of childhood - many forgotten escapades and episodes - all tucked into an album with little pockets. Treasures!

  2. Yes, I have boxes of letters I've kept. Cards too. I enjoy those browses because it does stir up memories long also long stored away.

    You mentioned how the memories and emotions come rushing in.... it's true.

    How lovely that your mother-in-law kept your letters. I used to keep some copies of my own letters and they are interesting fodder to read once in a blue moon. They are like a journal/diary too. SO I'm loathe to toss them.

    Did you ever read Alexandra Stoddard's book Gift of a Letter? I always enjoyed reading... maybe I'll reach for it from my shelf... it's been a while.

    Happy Weekend!

  3. Yes, I have some letters that I save. What a treasure all these letters are and a reminder that we might want to pass letters on or even back to the one who wrote them. What a marvelous thing your mother-in-law did! Do write that book, Lorrie. Now you've even got your research nearly accomplished.

  4. How wonderful to have all those thoughtful of your MIL to have kept them. And I'm with your kids...write the book!

  5. This is beautiful to read Lorrie! I'm SO happy for the gift your Mother in Law gave back to you.

    Since forever it seems we have been able to learn much about life in the past through letters. It is sad to think that emails will not be saved, unless of course someone like your mum has printed them out.

    It is wonderful to know that you and your husband lived in Ecuador. What an adventure you have shared with one another and your children!



    Happy National Letter Writing Day!

  6. What a beautiful treasury of handwritten love!

    ~ Violet

  7. Lorrie, a few years ago I returned the long, newsy letters my English pen pal had written to me over the past 40 years. I answered the phone a few days after mailing them and heard my lovely English friend, saying through tears, "Thank you, thank you for saving my letters." It was such a joy for me to give her back the memories of our youth. We are still friends and I hope to visit her next summer. Cheryl

  8. Hello Lorrie - What a lovely story. I definitely think you should write a book for your children and future grandchildren. Letters are such a keepsake and tell such wonderful stories. I kept all the letters I received as did one of my sisters and we wrote many when our children were small, When I finally got most of them organized to mail back to her it was close to her 6oth birthday and I created a special scrapbook to mail along with most of the the letters. One day I'll tell you more on my blog. Have a great weekend. I hope you'll get the opportunity to spend it with your children.

  9. What a lovely story Lorrie...I loved this!
    Yes i have letters from an neighbour back home...a dear sweet old lady that was like a mom to me. I cherish and have all her letters.
    Great idea to one day write a book!
    Happy Victoria day my friend!
    Pamela xo

  10. I have a handful of letters from the past - letters from a friend no longer with us, the last letter my grandmother sent to me. All treasured. Something we will lack with emails, I think. xx

  11. Oh yes, I keep most of my private letters and still write them. hey are a treasure trove. What will people do who only send emails?


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