Letter writing is a lost art form. Think about when the last time you got a letter in the mail was. And I’m not talking about birthday cards or season’s greetings from relatives. I’m talking about a real letter, handwritten or typed, from another person, telling you what’s going on in their life. In today’s age of tweets, snaps, pics, and posts the craft of writing a multi page personal communication to a single person seems almost barbaric. But every couple of months I get a letter from my grandma. I know it as soon as I open the mailbox. Mixed in between the bills and coupon flyers is an envelope that looks like the seams are ready to split. Sometimes the envelope isn’t able to contain all she wants to share with me, so it’s replaced with a manila envelope. Miraculously it’s not held together with packing tape to keep the precious contents from bursting out on some unsuspecting mail carrier. I never open them right away. I always set it off to the side. It’s not something to open and glance through in the midst of cooking dinner and helping the kids with homework. Letters from grandma deserve more than that.
The letters started a few years ago after I surprised my grandma by stopping by her condo while on a business trip. After looking at the most recent photos from my cousins, and giving her some updated ones of my family, we sat down to catch up on life. She talked about her ladies group she was part of and the Bible studies she leads. Then she mentioned how much she enjoyed my blog. She said my writing had inspired her to start writing down some stories of her own. As she said it she got up and walked down the hallway to a bookshelf built into the wall. She returned slowly with a small book in her hands. “I’ve never shown this to anyone,” she said, ” but I think you’ll appreciate it.” She handed me a brown hard back book with some loose leaf scraps of paper sticking out. The corners were slightly worn, but in generally good shape. I knew by the way she handed it to me it was very precious. “This is my album” she said.
At first I thought it was a journal, but as I flipped through the pages it became clear it was much more than that. She explained that an album isn’t like a journal; it’s more like a yearbook. It’s handed off to others to contribute to for one reason or another; birthdays, baptisms, leaving for school, etc. Much of it I couldn’t read because it was written in Czech when she was a little girl before coming to the United States. I was blown away by the care and intricacy of what I held in my hands. There was a letter from her cousin in some of the most beautiful handwriting I’ve ever seen. Another page had a poem from her best friend written in calligraphy on a scrap of wallpaper. And there were pages of art in water color paint, colored pencil, or pen.
Every page was a different person and story. Every story led to another story. I sat for hours listening to stories I had never heard before, or just didn’t have the patience to listen to when I was younger. Stories of the old country. Stories of family members no longer with us. Of people and places I would never meet or visit. There were too many pages and stories for the short amount of time we had together. As I looked at the clock and saw it was time for my next appointment I carefully closed the precious book and handed it back to my grandma. I held it tight as she grabbed the other end. I looked her in the eyes as we sat side by side on the couch. “Grandma, I know as you get older my mom, aunt, uncle, and cousins have started asking you for the china, antiques, etc. and you’ve started giving them away.” I said. “I don’t want anything. But when the day comes, I want this book. For me, this is the most important thing you have and it’s the most important thing to me. And until that day comes I want you to write me all the stories you want to.”
I know the letters aren’t easy for grandma. The cover letter in each envelope tells me how tired she is. How her body is getting older and and life just isn’t as easy as it used to me. She tells me how much she misses my grandpa, her sister, and so many others no longer with us. Her hands hurt if she types for too long, so she works on the letters a little bit at a time. She also shares how grateful she is to remember the stories and all the blessings she’s had in her long life.
If I’ve learned anything in my life, it’s that each of us has a special and unique story to tell. Some stories are happy, others extremely tragic. But every person’s story is important and worth telling. Where we lose our humanity is when we start to make one person’s story more important than anothers, or simply don’t make the time to even listen in the first place. If I was a better grandson I would make more time to call and listen to my grandma’s stories. One day they won’t be there for me anymore and a piece of me will be lost. So call your grandma. Or better yet, write her a letter. There’s just something about a letter.