Nora Swango Stanger: Handwritten letters bring back memories, loved ones

Published 12:00 am Sunday, April 3, 2022

I love handwritten letters. They paint a picture of the author and the recipient.

While emails and texts are efficient and fast, they cannot compare to seeing the unique handwriting of a friend or family member on paper.

It’s hard to believe that there was a time when, to express ourselves to another who lived a distance away (and to keep the phone bill low), we would have to intentionally sit still enough to gather our thoughts and put them on paper.

Email newsletter signup

We had to make sure we had postage stamps, walk the letter to the mailbox, then anticipate how many days it would take for the recipient to receive our news.

I remember when going to the mailbox was anticipated almost like Christmas morning, because you might just receive a reply to the letter you sent.

For decades I have saved letters received. I have three four-inch binders full of them. There are letters from Mom and Granny while I was in college. These talk of things such as when a winter coat would be out of lay-away, how Mom’s college work was going, and how Granny’s arthritis was acting up. Each one said they missed me and wanted me to be doing well.

Love letters written by my husband when we were dating, and even current love notes from him, are in my collection. They are a reminder of young love, especially when life isn’t as cheery as we had dreamt it would be.

For 10 years, I wrote weekly letters to my husband’s grandmother when she was in a nursing home. My in-laws saved the letters which are a pure treasure. In them I would describe adventures our young daughters were putting us through, like when Hannah was making a replica of an English castle out of boxes and KC kept trying to put his touches on it. Hannah spoke up boldly and said, “Daddy, this is MY castle. You had your chance when you were in third grade.”

In another letter I described a parenting class KC and I had taken at church one evening. We were instructed to make our children part of the solution and not the problem when mistakes were made. The exact example was given that if your child spilled milk at the dinner table, rather than getting upset, simply say, “Oh my, the milk is spilt. What should we do?”

It just so happened that evening our three-year-old Hope was lying on her belly on the kitchen floor, coloring a picture, while I was preparing supper. Suddenly, she knocked over a cup of juice, making a sticky puddle on the floor. Perfect timing, right?

I put my newly-gained parenting tools to work immediately.

“Oh my, Hope! The juice spilt on the floor! What should we do?”

Hope looked at me in astonishment, not because of the shock of the accident. She was surprised that I wasn’t rushing to clean up the mess and giving a lecture about being careful with drinks.

Hope then gave me a great big smile, made her little mouth into a perfect circle, put her sweet lips to the floor and sucked up the juice! So much for expert advice.

Handwritten letters do more than bring back memories. They forever have the marks of the loved one on paper. Though Granny and my sister Linda have moved on from this life, I still recognize their handwriting. I see the time and effort they put into letters just to tell me I was important enough to send me letter.

Relationships that helped form me are evidenced in my letter collection. They highlight what is truly important in life: not how large my 401K is or what neighborhood I live in, or even the status I may have in my career.

If this article spurs your memory of the joy of handwritten letters, take this moment and write your thoughts on paper. Send them to someone you treasure. Let this action warm your heart like reading my letter collection warms mine.

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