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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 – Advanced)
Topic: Writing a Letter (handwritten correspondence) (10/21/10)

TITLE: My Heart on Paper
By Anita van der Elst


Mama settles the wrinkles in the white butcher paper with her iron. “Here you go,” she says, placing the recycled outer meat wrapper on the table in front of me. No waste on our farm. Mama sits across from me with her lined tablet and puts her pen to writing a letter to her parents.

I gaze out the kitchen window at the falling snow and then select my favorite crayon, midnight blue.



“How do you spell ‘dear’?”

My grandparents, yearly snowbirds to Arizona, will admire the drawings created by my four-year-old hand and the scrawling of my first written correspondence.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * *

“Boys and girls, for our Social Studies lesson, you will be writing reports on the state you’ve chosen. I’ve given you each the name and address of that state’s government contact. You will write a letter asking for information to be sent to you for your report. Be sure to include your return address. I will want to see your letter in pencil first and after I’ve approved it, you may copy it in pen. Now, here’s how your letter should look.”

All eyes turn to the chalkboard as Mrs. Pettimoor, in her perfect penmanship, writes out a sample letter for us to follow.

My heart races the day I open our rural mailbox to discover a large envelope from the state of Delaware. Honestly I’m a little disappointed that there’s no personal communication to match the carefully constructed and painstakingly penned missive I’d sent. But still as a fifth grader, I’m goggle-eyed at receiving a reply from a state government.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Two shoeboxes bulge with a summer’s worth of epistles from my best friend. At fifteen we’re too young to drive and although only three miles separate our homes, it has been deemed too far to walk. Tying up the phone lines for hours is also prohibited so we pour out our frustrations and dreams on paper. Her envelopes are often covered with her artistic oil painted designs. Mine are plain with maybe a silly drawing or two.

Five cents is a small price to pay to stay connected. And it is amazing the size of notebook paper tomes that can be stuffed into an envelope for that amount. Okay, sometimes I have to ‘icky-lick’ an extra cent stamp or two, and paying C.O.D. on her letters is always worth it. She does the same for me.

Letters also come from Vietnam; my brother is stationed there. I write him faithfully every week, even making color pencil drawings of a huge bruise on my leg to show him how it looks in stages. Most of his replies are to the whole family but once in awhile, there’s a note just for me. Only a few sentences, like chicken scratches, but I flush with pride over them.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * *

At age twenty I’ve made the move, 1300 miles from the place of my birth. It was a tearful parting for my fifteen year old sister and me but I know I must follow this path. I pull out the package of notebook paper with the cartoon of Mickey Mouse on the corner and begin a letter, one of hundreds that I will write to her over the next thirty years. I wish I’d saved all of her faithful replies but I do have a dozen file folders in which we can trace parts of her life. Now we mostly chat on-line in real time. Sometimes I print out those communiqués to cherish and savor as I used to, curled up with a cup of herbal tea.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * *

My husband is looking for something in the old file cabinet. He pulls out a box tied with ribbon. An hour later he comes to me.

“I’d forgotten how many letters and cards you sent me any time we were apart,” he says. “You must really love me a lot.”

I do. Yes, I emphatically do.

Writing letters has been one way I’ve shown the depths of my affection. Haunting Hallmark stores for the perfect stationery and unique pens, and then trusting my notes to the USPS is all part of the process. Even the rise in postal rates, from five cents back in the 1960s to today’s self-sticking 44-centers, seems reasonable when considering the pay-off—putting my heart on paper and mailing it, sealed with a kiss.

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This article has been read 579 times
Member Comments
Member Date
Rachel Phelps10/28/10
I love how you showed so many different types of letters. It took me a few sections to catch the rhythm of the story, but it's a lovely look at the world of letter-writing.
Amy Michelle Wiley 10/28/10
I like these little snapshots of your life and how important letter-writing was. In the first section the vocabulary seemed a bit much for a child that young, but since later we realized it was an adult looking back on that time, it might be fine. Great story!
Caitlyn Meissner10/30/10
Good idea for an article. I liked how you showed so many different phases of her letter writing. I just wish I could have seen what some of her letters said. You had a good message at the end. Great job!
Robyn Burke10/30/10
Aah, nostalgia! Sometimes I miss the good ole days of pen and paper. (But I love the speed of email!)

It was a nice slice from different stages of your life; yes it would have been fun to read some of what had been written between you and those you wrote to, but honestly, I think this is just great the way it is!
Shann Hall-LochmannVanBennekom 10/30/10
This is a sweet history of your life in letters. There's something special about a handwritten note. I recently received a thank you letter for a baby gift on Facebook! It just seemed like cheating somehow. I tried to accept it with gracious love but there's no denying there's nothing as special as a handwritten note. Keep sharing pieces of your life. They are a delight to read.