Cleaning House and Reminiscing

By Beverly Denton

In Honor of Letters Written on Paper


I know many people who, when moving to a new country in retirement, have garage sales, toss papers into the trash, and plead with family members to please take their valuable vases, china, stemware, and antique chairs. We strip down to the bare essentials to move cheaply and efficiently, taking what fits into an SUV.  However, I did just a part of this ridding myself of my collection of memorabilia.

One box of memories I decided to keep was a box of letters, mostly written to my mother about my life and travels while in the US Foreign Service, and also some love letters from long ago almost forgotten beaus.   What fun to read these detailed stories of travels to Egypt, Greece, Aqaba, Jordan, Kinshasa, the Congo, and the Dominican Republic during an attempted coup d’état where I partied with  war correspondents and TV journalists. 

What really touched me, however, was a love letter from an English teacher lover. As I reread the typewritten letter on that thin, see-through paper we all used 50 years ago for Air Mail – weight mattered, you may remember.   In these days of e-mail, snap chat, twitter and texting, how long do you keep any significant message?  Weeks, months, days, hours??? Unless, of course, you are the Secretary of State.

I fear our youth are going to miss out on this joy of rereading a love letter when they are 60, 70 or 80 and look back on their life of pain, sorrow, and happiness and joy. How sad it would be to forego memories of past romances that can bring smiles, laughter, wonderment and tears.  Here is my favorite letter:

“My darling strumpet,

Let me shout with glee – and break in a new ribbon – by answering your letter, which I just got, incidentally.  For one ghastly moment (or two or so) I feared that an uncertain acquaintance with English orthography made you hesitate to commit yourself to paper. Actually, you’re a much better speller than I. Not a virtue, maybe, but it does give us snobs something to be smug about.  (You see, you don’t even need the skill; you can be smug about your remarkably beautiful legs; your smooth, fair, soft body.) 

You are not only beautiful, intelligent, and affectionate, but you are a woman of damn good sense.  I promise not to analyze a damn single event, statement, relationship, or idea when you get here. I will concentrate on making certain that you have a fine time, see old friends and (to be slightly indelicate) memorize a ceiling……I fear that your old senile Montague is a miserable romantic; whereas you exhibit a delicately perceptive sense not often found in broads. 

This morning I was so happy to receive your letter – at last – that I simply  tore the envelope away and tossed it into the wastebasket. (Your letter, I am memorizing, of course.)  I love you. 

I love you.  May I examine just two sentences in your letter? No more, and I’ll give up the couch treatment of your every statement (No wonder you are often so silent.)  Page 1:  “I do love you, really.” Page 2:  “… but I feel that I just don’t want to have to think of such things until I am more sure of my feelings toward you.”  You can see how I, essentially a simple boy, can be confused by your statements. Or have I read too many freshman compositions? Ah, well, my darling, I love you.  (You know, until I got your letter, I never realized how distressing was my habit of taking apart your every sentence.   I am a slob.) 

I have so much to tell you, but I need you to help round out the conversation. Unfortunately, I don’t think well on paper. I can’t type worth a damn, and my thoughts seem to race ahead of my pudgy fingers. Now that you’ve relented and written to me (I love you, but I know that you can – and might have – forgotten me as soon as you lost the displeasure of my company… at least, it did seem like displeasure when I left…your letter did much to reassure me) mayhap I will write to you again in the next few days. At any rate, write to me soon and often.    



Praise be to “snail mail” and days of yore gone by!


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