Who doesn’t like to receive mail? In 2016 most of our communication consists of text messages, Facebook posts, Instagram photos, Twitter tweets, and email. (These will likely become a “thing of the past” within no time, replaced by other types of communication.) Receiving a letter nowadays seems like a dying custom. I still relish sending my photo greeting cards to family and friends, and typically with some type of note.
As I preserve family history, my parents’ correspondence that they sent to each other in the years leading up to their 1954 marriage, is kept in an archival-quality box. Included in this collection are letters that they exchanged while Dad was in Korea and before he was discharged. They are a beautiful record of the past. Many of these letters were sent via Air Mail and clearly marked as such.
My parents began as pen-pals…she writing to a young man who was soon-to-be deployed while serving in the Korean War. Once he was deployed, Dad would write of the conditions, including the brutally cold winter that he and his fellow servicemen encountered. Mom would write of her work as a secretary and life in Anaheim, California. They were reflecting on two very different experiences, but for Dad it likely provided a reprieve from loneliness and underlying concerns for his safety and that of his unit. Mom, the “eternal optimist,” would send him letters that certainly brought him cheer. Plus, for each of them, the anticipation of the next letter probably brought a flutter to their hearts and a smile to their faces when the letters arrived.
When we go through the exercise of downsizing our households or that of our parents, I encourage us to look for correspondence. It is a valuable historical record. Not only does it give you a snapshot into the past, it can also prove invaluable as a record of local history for your parents’ community. Approach this type of collection with sensitivity. If it seems appropriate, consider donating the collection or parts of it to your local historical society. Otherwise, write a story based on the letters and share it with your family. Need help? I would be happy to do so via Heartfelt Legacies.