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  • Katherine Dudley Hoehn

Words Matter. Write a Letter

At home with my favorite toy

One of my best childhood toys was a real mailbox installed on a short post next to the sandbox. I loved playing postman and delivering mail. Most importantly, I deposited my letters to Santa, lifted the red flag and waited for the letters to disappear (miraculously they did – thanks Mom and Dad). I believed they were picked up and delivered to the man in red.

Letter "mailed" to Santa

The mailbox was a brilliant idea and helped foster my love for writing letters. Dad, the most prolific letter writer I have ever known, bought me my first box of personalized stationery and bestowed upon me a fountain pen like his when I began helping address and write the family Christmas cards.

Dad’s family saved more than 2,000 letters he wrote home during his three years as an Army private in WWII, and from summer

camp, college, and through his adult life.

Dad's 1945 letter, from England, to his father

His letters detail successes and failures, job challenges, lots of book, movie and theatre reviews, first impressions of my Mom, wedding planning, births of children, house plans, and party menus. Starting when I went away to college, he wrote me every week and I wrote back. In turn, Mom and Dad saved all my letters to them, too.

Dad’s letters always ended the same way, “Devotedly, Dad”. I still have the note that he inserted in the package he mailed the morning just before he had the stroke that took him away at age 80. “We know your ability will carry you to the top. We are so proud of you.” Words matter.

I’ve just finished cataloging boxes of Dad’s letters and those from friends and other relatives, now passed. I also found letters from former employers, board members, and others whose lives intersected mine. It was quite a trip down memory lane.

This review led me to think more about what is missing today – and especially during Covid. We are missing personalization – focused community with someone because we are important to one another. We can’t be face to face, but we can write letters.

Henry (and his dad) wrote this nice letter

A letter, not an email or a text, says the recipient is important to the writer. You care. You give of yourself. You want to be right there with the reader when they open it. It has feeling and takes effort: time; penmanship; stamps; stationery; and a trip to the mailbox.

Lydia wrote this sweet thank you.

My early letters were thank you notes for gifts. My parents taught us that the gift wasn’t ours unless we thanked the donor in writing. Now I understand just how meaningful the acknowledgement of a kind act is to the donor. And how nice it is to receive a letter just because. It is the most intimate way to say you appreciate someone. A text is not quite the intimate response a gift deserves.

I have written more than 100 letters during Covid - lengthy handwritten letters to at least one person every day. Most are old friends I rarely see or have not spoken to in some time. Often I write so they know their words or kindnesses still matter to me. It is a tiny gift I can give that costs almost nothing and it is meant to mean something.

Even during this rather dull period of Covid, it is easy to find something to talk about. You can always say thank you for a kindness or spend a few lines reminding someone of a special time you had together. A few of my letter recipients will be surprised to hear from me.

My letters are gifts with no strings attached. It has been fun to receive unexpected responses: calls; a few letters; and even some emails. Most people say they haven't received a handwritten letter in a long time. I hope that changes. Letters are important. Words matter.

You might think about reaching out to someone you haven’t spoken to in some time. Give them a written chat. Tell them why they are important to you or remind them of something nice they once did for you. They might just tuck it in a drawer and read it again some day when they need to hear something nice about themselves.

Words matter and they last a long time when you put them in a letter.


Buying stamps for your letters can be fun. Probably my favorite stamp is the Scooby-Doo! stamp, but there are loads of choices to commemorate events (19th Amendment, First Moon Landing), honor a person (John F. Kennedy, Sally Ride, George H.W. Bush, Gwen Ifill), beautify your envelope (Flowers, State and County Fair), or make people smile (Scooby-Doo and Bugs Bunny) . The USPS could use the business and the nod of trust in their service.

Some of my favorite postage stamps

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1 Comment

Aug 25, 2020

Enjoyed your blog! What a wonderful idea to put a mailbox in your sandbox. It’s not a wonder you developed a love to write. Unfortunately, the art of letter writing went to the wayside with cursive handwriting. Looking at old letters from friends and relatives is like looking at pictures—it makes the memory come alive. Old emails just don’t have the same affect.

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