Lamenting A Lost Art

Apr 26, 2010 | 1 comment

     Most people I know, even those who lament it, are guilty of contributing to the loss of  the “art of letter writing.”  It’s not that we don’t communicate.  We do.  And often we actually communicate through written language, but for the most part there is no physical evidence to prove it.
     It’s hard for me to wrap my head around the fact that my grandmother, Helen Richardson Espy, wrote two or three letters every day throughout her long life.  How did she have time with seven children to raise, a household to run (sans electricity!), and often writing by the light of a coal oil lamp?
     She wrote necessary business letters; she wrote to her children, to the relatives, to her far–away friends.  Corresponding by letter was a life-long habit and as necessary to her and her contemporaries as eating or sleeping. 
     By the time I came along, my grandmother was losing her sight.  Her children bought her the smallest portable typewriter then available – one that could sit comfortably on her lap – and she learned to type by touch so that she could continue to write her daily letters.  Once in awhile, her fingers would stray onto the wrong keys and, for a line or two, her message became mysterious. Deciphering what she meant became a sort of lesson in code-breaking.
     My grandparents, inveterate ‘savers,’ kept every bit of correspondence that came into the house.  Their children also saved correspondence and, over the years, their letters came back to the family house, as well.  In the end, we often had “both sides of the conversation” – an invaluable resource for historical research, especially that dealing with the concerns of everyday life in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.  This archive is now housed at the Research Center of the Washington State Historical Society in Tacoma. 
     I wonder how many similar collections of correspondence will be left by the current generations…

1 Comment

  1. Mindy

    We used to have contests seeing who could decipher Grandma’s penmanship first! I miss having her around. I’d write a letter, she’d date on it when she had responded…and if I didn’t write back soon, I’d be in trouble, another letter would soon arrive! “…What’s wrong?”

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