Forgotten Memories Revived

Feeling nostalgic and curious a few weeks ago, I pulled out two bags of old letters and cards I’ve saved over the years. They’re from family and friends, with some even dating back to the late 1980s. What an amazing treasure trove!

Handwritten letters (remember when we actually sent those?) and cards with handwritten notes, they hold so many precious reminders of my past, much of which I’d forgotten. But that’s the magic of writing, whether letters or journal entries—it preserves our thoughts, feelings, observations, even mundane comments, so that we can remember them. Unlike ephemeral bits and bytes today, these bits of paper are tangible archives of the past.

Some of the most poignant letters in the two bags are from my mom. She died at age 89 in January, but long before that, in 2010, a stroke took away her ability to write, and even most of her speech, so I’d forgotten how much we used to communicate on paper after I moved away from home. The sight of her tiny, perfect handwriting struck my heart. Many of her letters were short, simple descriptions of what was going on in her life or with family members or friends. Some of them had me laughing with her sense of humor about everyday occurrences or the jokes we used to share. Sometimes, she wrote about how much she had enjoyed a visit from me and looked forward to the next one. They don’t contain anything that anyone else would consider profound, but for me, they are priceless remembrances of my “old” Mom as she was before her stroke. And now that she is gone, they mean more to me than ever.

Other letters and cards were from my sisters (my brother is not a letter writer). Those from one sister who has mostly removed herself from the family brought tears to my eyes with reminders of our past closeness. Others were from old girlfriends with whom I’ve lost touch, and even a few old boyfriends from my ancient, pre-Ken past. And yes (don’t worry, Honey!), I have saved most of the cards that Ken has given to me, too.

I have undergone so many changes and transitions since the days when these letters were sent. Reviewing them reminded me, sweetly and poignantly, of my history—where I’ve come from and what my life used to be, and people with whom I was close (and sometimes still am). I will continue to cherish them as I move forward into my future.

FOR YOUR JOURNAL      

Have you saved old letters? What do they mean to you?

If you have some old letters from family or friends, read several and then write about who you were back then, what your life was like, what the letter-writer meant to you.

If you are no longer in touch with the letter-writer, what would you write to them now?

You can also write about the changes and transitions you have made in your life since the time of the letter. Did the letter-writer play a role in them?

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4 replies
  1. Didi Rowland
    Didi Rowland says:

    This is lovely Barbara! I have a letter written by my Mom in 1966 to her Mom about the birth of her baby boy (my little brother). It’s on one of those old Aerogram blue, thin fold up things. Remember those? My grandmother lived in Holland. My Mom died 28 years ago and my Grandmother died 34 years ago so it’s really poignant to read her account of my sister and me and how much we helped my Mom with our baby brother. Her scrawled out black felt pen loopy letters! Makes me tear up thinking about it.Thank you for these prompts. Warmly, Didi Rowland

  2. Barbara Stahura
    Barbara Stahura says:

    Didi, thank you for your comment. Yes, I do remember those thin airmail letters, even though I don’t have one in my stash. What a precious treasure you have in those letters from your mom! It saddens me to know that those days of letter-writing are long gone, and that so many people won’t have that kind of tangible memory now.

  3. Kelle z Nellis
    Kelle z Nellis says:

    I’m replying a little late because I save your entries to read at later dates when I have the time. I can’t believe this, but I wanted to share with you something about “me”. I started “pen paling” when I was in grade school. My life at home was pretty miserable, but school brought so much joy to my life and even at age 7, I realized to importance of saving those pieces of paper to remind me of my joy because they were physical proof of life. Every since that time, not only do I journal (got my first diary with the lock at age 7 and still have it to this day) but I continue to send letters to friends and have saved every single one! I have acquired trunks now to hold my “life” written from friends and my journals to preoccupy myself at the age where all I have is time to read them as a momentum of a life God gave me. Periodically, I sit and just mull over the mail I’ve acquired. It is a lot of fun and periodically I get back in touch with some people who were in my life only briefly. I am 51 now, and still send cards and letters and it is reciprocated and, of course, I still save them. Sometimes, I get some cards out that didn’t have much on them and throw them away, but the long letters even written on the cards are saved forever. It is my hopes that some day my grandchildren might find them precious as well, if not, there will be a nice bonfire. So glad that you share the same passion as it is a lost art. God bless

  4. Barbara Stahura
    Barbara Stahura says:

    Kelle, thank you for your story! As you have discovered, writing in many forms can help us get through life. I love that you still write letters to friends and that you save their responses. You have a treasure trove of memories there–really, a kind of history of your life.

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