Letters of the Heart

The letters that inspired The Last Letter are amazing. First, the paper itself, now 129 years-old, remains fine and sturdy. Even though Jeanie sometimes chose a lighter weight of writing paper, its delicacy is still fully intact, each word, still perfectly scripted.  In some cases the stationery was enclosed in petite 3×4 ½ inch envelopes and I can’t help but imagine Frank, with a smile, tucking the envelope into his back pocket to savor the letter, later in private.

Besides their visual appeal, the letters are fine gifts of Jeanie’s heart and mind. Her writing flows, springing from her soul’s deepest longings. She recognized that once in the mail, her sentiments would sprout wings and sail into the heart of Frank—for good and bad. For, as we all know how easy it is to press the send button with an unclear thought shooting across cyberspace, her letters frequently misrepresented what she wanted to say. Imagine it taking TWO WEEKS to realize what you wrote created the wrong impression on the reader—on the man you desperately wanted to please most (we’ll talk about Jeanie’s attempts to mold herself to Frank’s image of a woman in a later post!).

Now, I’d be hard-pressed to hand write a letter. Heck, I was irritated having to write the three-line note I just scribbled to my son’s teacher for an early, dental dismissal. To think I’d sit down and construct a full-blown accounting of my heart, my day, my troubles, or hopes to a friend would be as far from my mind, as say, the days of the prairie 129 years ago.

Yet, when I read Jeanie’s letters, when I look at them, their beauty is undeniable. The fact that they were passed from Frank, to his son, to my mother and to me and that they are their own little messengers from the grave appeals to me greatly.

One of my favorite magazines, Mary Jane’s Farm brings the topic of “The Handwritten Life,” to its lovely pages. Reading that magazine feels a lot like reading Jeanie’s letters, like I’m stepping into another world, if only a few moments. The article makes clear that Mary Jane is actually a practitioner of real, actual handwriting, she uses it regularly, she finds calm and beauty in the process.

Maybe it’s partly my multiple sclerosis, the way my fingers seem cramp and seize up that makes handwriting a chore to me, the numbness too big an obstacle for me to overcome just to enjoy the flow of words from my fingertips. But I can certainly appreciate the efforts of others.  And boy, every time I read Jeanie’s letters I feel gratitude, so lucky that her life survived on paper the way it has.

And, I think maybe just maybe, if I start small, with teeny postcards or something, I could send a little heartfelt happiness to those who I love so much.

Well, it’s a thought.

4 thoughts on “Letters of the Heart

  1. These letters are such priceless treasures. When I was a senior in hs, my boyfriend was a freshman in college. We wrote to each other literally every day. When I came home from school, my mother had that day’s letter placed prominently on the middle of the stove for me. On Mondays, there would be two letters, since there was no mail delivery on Sunday. I have few regrets in my life, but one is that I did not save those letters past college, when we broke up. How I would love giving them to my daughter. You are so lucky to have these. I’m looking forward to reading the book.

  2. The letters are 129 years old!!! WTF! Wow! I am with you…I get so pissed if I have to write a note or something! I am so used to typing away. Not really enjoying the words like Jeannie did. She expressed her love with those letters. Maybe for my 10 year anniversary, I will write Kevin a letter (and enjoy the experience!). What a gift to give someone you love. Great post!

  3. Thanks Lisa! I think a letter to Kevin would be a fantastic idea…let me know how it goes. I think I might try some postcards. I’m going to give some away at my book launch!

  4. Michele,
    thanks so much for your thoughts! I’m sure those letters would be incredible to have today. There’s something so ordinary about letters at the time and probably even for decades, then suddenly you realize, with distance just how full of life and love they are! What’s so interesting to me is that Jeanie’s letters survived–Frank kept hers…I can only imagine what she did to his! I can’t wait to hear what you think of the book…coming soon!

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