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Nora Swango Stanger: Appreciating the lost art of handwritten letters

There is an antiquated form of communication that I desperately miss. I love hand written letters.

It seems to me that, within a handwritten letter, I am able to hear the heart of the author in a way texts, emails and even phone calls cannot touch.

I have huge binders of letters received through the decades. I sometimes flip through them as a way to reconnect to people who have shaped my life.

I have copies of letters my granny wrote during college days. My adult heart is moved even more intimately as I read her saying, “Your mom put a coat in layaway for you. This month’s check will have to pay for a load of coal, but next month we get (the coat) for you.”

I am reminded of her deep commitment to us and I sometimes shed tears as I look at the forever recognizable handwriting. I see the progressive pain that comes with age when she writes, “I’m feeling a little better today. I was able to get my dress on all by myself.”

The letters from Mom when I was in graduate school in Texas were something my homesick heart impatiently anticipated. I was 1,400 miles from everything I knew and there was intense comfort reading her say, “I know you can do this, but you know I won’t be disappointed if you change your mind and come home.”

Of course, I have love letters from KC when we were dating. I even have pressed violets that he left at my apartment door with one of his letters. The color of the petals have faded and the stem has broken off, but when I revisit these days I only see the freshness of new love and the promise for the future.

When KC’s grandmother had to move to a nursing home, I wrote letters to her weekly for 10 years. These were always happy letters, telling her stories of our growing children.

For instance, there is the letter that describes nine-year-old Hannah building a replica of a medieval castle out of a cardboard box.

I told Grandma Stanger about Hannah, lying on her tummy on the floor, working on the tiniest details of the school project. I shared that KC wanted badly to help her, but Hannah kept saying, “Stop Daddy! It’s my project!”

I shared with Grandma the winnings of Hope’s softball team and the bike rides we took through our neighborhood.

These letters were treasures to her and from what I hear, the nursing home staff always wanted to be the ones to read the letters to Grandma.

KC’s parents returned all the letters to me after Grandma moved to her home in heaven. They are stored among the many other nuggets of love in the letter binders.
Years back, waiting for the mailman to deliver letters was a joy, something I anticipated with longing.

I would open the mail as soon as it arrived and devour whatever love-message was sent by someone dear to me. These days, I sometimes even forget to go to the mailbox. Most of my mail is junk, advertisements of things I don’t want or need.

I’m as guilty as anyone else of making text my default form of communication. I enjoy text messages, emails and personal messages through Facebook.

These have replaced hand written letters due to convenience and time, but receiving messages in modern form just doesn’t have the same impact on me as holding a piece of paper with words carefully written in the familiar hand of someone dear to me.

If you have handwritten letters, save them. Get them out on days you need to remember what really matters. Consider even writing a letter to someone special to you.

Take it from me, they will treasure it.

Nora Swango Stanger, a Lawrence County native and Appalachian outreach coordinator for Sinclair Community College, can be reached at norastanger@gmail.com.