When Justin Smith was 30 years old a few years back, he lived only four blocks from his father in a small town in Eastern North Carolina. He saw his dad at least once a week. Yet several times a year he received a handwritten note from his father, Steve, as he had for most of his adult life, offering support and encouragement.
In one note Steve Smith wrote, “I write this letter to you as a father full of pride in his son and his accomplishments.” Another time he wrote, “The next 9-10 months will be challenging for you…. I have no doubt you will continue to make significant contributions to make it a better world.” Justin Smith eventually became a TV reporter.
Steve Smith explained why he mails handwritten notes to his son. “I’m a believer that handwritten notes are kind of a lost art in this day of social media. We need to keep it alive. It sends a message to the receiver and to the writer that you stopped what you were doing and totally focused on that person for a few minutes.”
John Drescher, one of my former students, wrote about the Smiths for the Raleigh News and Observer. John, who now works at the Washington Post, is also a firm believer in handwritten notes. He has a thick folder full of letters from his dad which started when Drescher was in college and continued for over two decades. When Drescher was in his 20s, his father often gave him career advice. When he was in his 30s with three small daughters, his father often wrote glowingly about his granddaughters.
Drescher’s dad was “old school,” often “formal and self-conscious about expressing his emotions to his children. But in his letters he was warm and effusive, revealing another side.” He sometimes closed his letters with, “Thank you for being our son.” He always signed them, “Love, Dad.” Drescher’s dad is gone now but he says, “As I re-read those old letters in his slanted, jagged handwriting, the years roll past page by page. I can hear his voice, supportive and reassuring, as if he were in the room with me.”
I too believe in the power of handwritten notes. I saved a couple of notes from both of my parents just so I could see their familiar handwriting and “hear” their voices. I also have a few letters from my brother John and sister Mary Ann, letters even more precious now that both of them are gone. I also have one cherished note from my Grandma Svoboda—a birthday wish for me when I was a little girl. In her beautiful penmanship, it says simply, “Dear Doly, I vish you vary hapy birthday. Love Grandma.” The misspelled words (Dolly, wish, very, happy) remind me that, when she entered this country at age 15, my grandma knew no English. Czech was her native language. What courage she had to start a new life in this new country! (I hope I carry some of that courage in my DNA!)
What about you? Do you think handwritten letters are a lost art? Do you have any handwritten letters that you treasure? Do you ever send handwritten letters to anyone?
Here’s a song entitled “Letter from Heaven” by Tim Shetler. He wrote this shortly after his mother passed away. For me the song captures what it feels like when we lose a loved one. Often we long for some communication from our dear ones from beyond the grave…and sometimes they do send us messages…
I invite you to write a brief comment below, sharing your ideas and experiences with handwritten letters. All of us would enjoy hearing from you!