In my Keepsake Box is a ragged piece of notebook paper, folded into quarters, that came in the mail on Valentine's Day 1966. Here's what it said:
Someday when we grow up, I want us to get married. We will live in Canada and raise dogs, cats, horses, chickens and cows. We will have five children. I love you and want to make you happy forever.
This little missive captured my 10 year old heart (in spite of the writer's notion that offering five children and a menagerie of animals was romantic!) I immediately hid it away in the bottom of my desk drawer, and obsessively re-read it until I wore the paper thin with folding and unfolding. Even now, 40 years later, those carefully penned words of love have the power to bring a little lump to my throat.
Just a few years after receiving that letter, I would be the recipient of dozens more love letters, the letters that Jim and I wrote to each other on a daily basis during his first semester away at college. The 35 mile distance between us seemed endless, and envelopes stuffed with 8 and 10 page letters passed back and forth between our mailboxes every day. All those letters now reside in two shoe boxes, sitting side by side on a shelf in the bedroom closet, a record of that time in our lives when we poured our hearts out on paper, exploring emotions, and dreaming of our future.
My most precious love letters of all, of course, are the hand scribbled, crayon drawings proffered in my son's grubby little hands. Like the one written on a half sheet of paper torn from a spiral notebook that reads "Mama, I love you sooooo much! I want to kiss and hug you! From your best boy in the whole wide world!" (followed by his full name, address, city, state, and zip code!)
Not long ago, I happened across a box of letters my mother-in-law had written to my father-in-law in 1944, during the first summer after their wedding. She had apparently returned to Colorado for the summer, leaving him in Michigan. Her letters were full of the same tone she continued to take with him during the years I knew them -reminding him of the chores he should be doing, providing detailed accounts of her daily activities, along with complaints about the weather. These were certainly not conventional love letters, yet he had kept them together in a box for over 40 years, this record of their time apart which her voice clearly communicated in the words she chose to put on paper.
In written communication, we are often able to express things that are difficult to verablize. Writing letters gives you a chance to consider your words carefully before putting them to paper, and offers the advantage of being physically distance from the recipient while they're reading. Sometimes it's easier to share feelings we might otherwise be reticent about -both positive and negative.
And love letters certainly provide history for the life of a relationship. In a recent essay in Newsweek magazine, journalist and novelist Anna Quindlen wrote about the power of writing in the lives of ordinary people. "Words on paper confer a kind of immortality," she writes. "Wouldn't all of us love to have a journal, a memoir, a letter, from those we have loved and lost? Shouldn't we all of us leave a bit of that behind?"
That's certainly why I've safeguarded all my love letters. Like miniature time machines, they transport me back to moments in my history, providing me with a tangible artifact that lets me connect with the writer as they were at the moment of writing.
How about you? Have you written and/or kept love letters? Perhaps Valentine's Day is a good day to write one to someone you love :)