I used to write a lot of letters. It started when I was five, living in Vancouver, BC, writing to my friend who lived an hour’s drive away. Her parents and mine were buddies, but we didn’t get to see each other as often as we’d have liked.
When I was nine, we moved to within a five-minute walk of my friend’s house, so I didn’t write to her anymore (except for a few weeks when our parents forbade us to hang out on account of us all causing too much trouble when together. We were such brats, we wrote our own addresses on the envelopes so the post office would do a “return to sender”, so each other could receive the letters without us using a stamp.)
In my new town, I wrote to my old friends in Vancouver. That was in the mid-1970s.
When I was eleven, my class at school started doing a penpal program with a school in Vancouver. That was fun! We all had a meetup one day, which was also fun.
I started putting penpal ads in a free ad paper in my late teens in the mid 1980s. I got to know a lot of people around the world through that. One penpal I remember was a boy from Malawi, Africa. When he saw a photo of me I’d sent, he expressed shock over ladies wearing pants. Apparently, at least at that time, in his country, the females all wore dresses or skirts.
When I moved to the wilderness of Alaska, I kept writing to my penpals, plus I began writing to family and friends back home in BC.
This Bible verse often came to mind when I got a letter:
“As cold waters to a thirsty soul, so is good news from a far country.” (Proverbs 25:25)
Around 1992, I found out about a magazine called Women’s Circle. There was a penpal section. I sent in a free ad. Several months later, when it got published, I was inundated with replies, Many people were fascinated with Alaska and wanted to know someone who lived there. I had to get really choosy about who I’d answer as there were literally hundreds of letters each month.
In 1997, I got my first email account. (I still have that one, but I rarely use it as Hotmail isn’t as appealing as Gmail.) By then, I had three children, and my letter writing became less and less due to time constraints. Plus, email was quicker.
Now, with seven kids, I rarely write pen-and-paper letters, though I fondly regard the memories of having done so for all those years. I still have a lot of old letters from my worldwide friends. My sister has all the letters I wrote to her when I lived in Alaska. I got to borrow them once, and it was fun poking through to reread the things I told her.
While I was sorting through my mother’s boxes of papers this past summer (she left her earthly body in May 2018, and I look forward to seeing her again with Jesus, whom she also knows), I came across a paper called “How To Write A Letter To A Friend”. I thought, “Wow, I like this! The writer sounds so much like me.” And I finally realized it was indeed written by me in the mid-1990s. I copied it below.
And I wonder about other people, what their letter-writing experiences are like, and if they still do much, if any, today, with email being so much quicker. Any thoughts? Do share!
How To Write A Letter To A Friend
First step: just do it!
Get out a pen and paper. Or, if you have a computer, turn it on and log in to your word processing program. Have a typewriter? You know what to do!
If you have a letter from the person to whom you want to write, you’ve got a step ahead right there. Has it been several months since you received it and you still haven’t answered? Better hurry – they may be thinking you no longer care about them. Open it up, lay it out in front of you, and reread it. Even if you just read it yesterday, this step is still helpful, as it reminds you of the questions they asked. Never leave a question unanswered.
Starting from scratch…
If you don’t have a letter from the person, no problem. Do you ever think of them when you hear a certain song? Let that be a starting point. Grab your writing implements and make a few notes. It could start out like, “Hi! I’m just listening to Pam Tillis sing ‘Blue Rose Is’ and it reminded me of you. Remember when we were line dancing to that song back and Jenny’s wedding and…”
Okay, so maybe you haven’t heard a song lately that reminds you of your friend. Maybe something else makes you think of them, or you can drum up a memory and go from there.
Don’t have time to write? Sure you do. If you care about someone, time can be found or made. How about those nights when you can’t sleep. Get up for fifteen minutes and write a one-pager.
You don’t need to schedule a whole hour and finish the letter in one fell swoop. Add to it as time allows. A sentence or two here, a paragraph there, and maybe you’ll even get carried away and tell your life’s history in a mini-novel. Any of these are fine. If that letter is headed for a friend, they will read it with relish. And maybe even mustard and a bun, if it’s long enough.
Across the miles…
When you move too far away to see your friends regularly, and you can’t afford long-distance phone charges, write a letter. And keep those letters going back and forth.
When a friend moves away from you, all the more reason do you have to write to them, especially if they’ve moved to a place where they know few, if any, people, they need your encouragement. They need to know you haven’t forgotten them. You are likely still in their minds. Maybe you don’t think of them as much as they think of you, since you still have others in your network of family and friends to occupy your thoughts. That friend is now living in a faraway place and is probably lonely. Even if they aren’t lonely, and even if they are gregarious people who make new friends easily, they are still attached to you, and they just might long to hear from you.
“Old friends are like gold
New friends are like silver…”
(That’s the gist of a poem I read on a Celestial Seasonings tea box.)
And old friends are also like a big apple tree – full of fruit that’s taken years to establish: the fruit of memories. New friendships are like sprouts in spring – exciting to discover, yet easily killed if not nurtured. Neglect them, and they die. Give your friendship the sunshine as well as the rain. Share your joys and sorrows, a little or a lot, depending how much you want that plant to grow.
Don’t get so busy that you neglect to keep in touch with a friend. Even a short note is better than losing something that could bring you a lifetime of joy.