Inrealized how valuable the art and practice of writing letters are, and how important it is to remind people of what a treasure letters-handwritten letters-can be. In our throwaway era of quick phone calls, faxes, and email, it's all to easy never to find the time to write letters. That's a great pity-for historians and the rest of us.
The length of the friendship never brought astonishment. After all, the majority of Baby Boomers could likely claim a long-standing friendship in their lives. No, it was always the letters: the-pen-on-paper, inside a-stamped-envelope, mailed-in-a-mailbox letter that was awe inspiring. 'You've been writing a letter every week for almost thirty years?' The question always evokes disbelief, particularly since the dawn of the Internet and email. We quickly correct the misconception. 'Well, at least one letter, but usually more. We write each other three or four letters a week. And we never wait for a return letter before beginning another.' Conservatively speaking, at just three letters a week since 1987, that would equal 4, 368 letters each, but we'd both agree that estimate is much too low. We have, on occasion, written each other two letters in a single day.
To keep something, you must take care of it. More, you must understand just what sort of care it requires. You must know the rules and abide by them. She could do that. She had been doing it all the months, in the writing of her letters to him. There had been rules to be learned in that matter, and the first of them was the hardest: never say to him what you want him to say to you. Never tell him how sadly you miss him, how it grows no better, how each day without him is sharper than the day before. Set down for him the gay happenings about you, bright little anecdotes, not invented, necessarily, but attractively embellished. Do not bedevil him with the pinings of your faithful heart because he is your husband, your man, your love. For you are writing to none of these. You are writing to a soldier.
Write in pictures. With your words, let the reader see not letters, but images. Be specific about every detail, but don't describe it-make it happen on the page, if you were writing fiction, or make it happen over again, if you were writing about history or some recent event.
I find things hidden in books: dried flowers, locks of hair, tickets, labels, receipt, invoices, photographs, postcards, all manner of cards. I find letters, unpublished works by the ordinary, the anguished, the illiterate. Clumsily written or eloquent, they are love letters, everyday letters, secret letters and mundane letters talking about fruit and babies and tennis matches, from people signing themselves as Majorie or Jean... I can't bring myself to dispose of these snippets and snapshots of lives that once meant (or still do mean) so much.