Emails are not Letters

As a means of communication, letters offer so much more than emails.  Letters, whether typed or, even better, handwritten, take time and thought; emails rarely do.  Perhaps because they are usually longer, letters better convey the personality and emotions of the sender; emails rely on the hardly personal emojis.  Letters are physical objects that can be kept and read again by the recipient or later, historians; emails are generally transient and whether researchers studying our era in the future will be able to access and read them is an open question.

I have felt all this keenly as I have read through family letters that my brother and I have inherited from our father’s family.  We all keep items that are precious to us— pictures of loved ones, mementoes of trips, dried corsages from proms and weddings.  This family kept letters and what letters they are, full of life, sickness and death; hard grueling farm work and delight in taking photographs; bitter cold and sweltering heat on the plains of Kansas.  They show care for each other in so many ways, expressed succinctly in the way they, both male and female, closed their letters:  Love to All from All.

My favorite letter, which I share here, reads like a short Annie Proulx story.  The writer is my great-uncle John, who has just recovered from a serious railroad accident that shattered bone in his hip and put him in the hospital for a long stretch of time.  With the money he got as a settlement from the railroad, he purchase land to farm in Missouri and wrote to his financé the following:


Henry Co. Mo. [Missouri]

On the place & in my log

Cabin door Nov. 25th 96

at 1 o’clock & no dinner & eat

breakfast at 5 this morning &

have walked & walked till I

am all tired out.


My Dear Lula. 

I hardly expect you will get this letter before I come but ‘twill do no harm for it seems like 3 month’s scince [since] I bid you good bye for a few days.  I have run around & worked untill I am nearly sick & is raining this afternoon but I will have to go 7 or 8 miles to catch the Clinton Stage in the morning & as I have to stop in K.C. [Kansas City] & then again in Atchison it will take untill Sat anyway & maybe more for me to get home.  You have no Idea how it looks in here in this cabin.  Will try & tell you when I get there & all the trips I have had & the roads.  I am glad indeed to hear you are well & as I expect to see you in a very few days I’ll close with Truest Love to you my own my Darling.  I am as ever Your Truly John

A love letter for the ages.

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