Don’t Forget To Write!

I stumbled across them in a closet the other day.  There they were in envelopes discolored from age with addresses slightly faded from the passage of time.  They were letters, shoeboxes full of them, all in neat little bundles tied up with faded ribbons.

As I looked through the box, there were many different kinds of letters. They spanned many years and even generations.  There were letters written by my great-grandmother and other relatives who had died before I was born.  It is a strange feeling to read the words written so long ago.  It was much like taking a trip through time and visiting someone from the past.

A lot of the letters just carried information about daily activities, recent visitors, weather information, and who had gotten married or had a new baby.  It is interesting to read them and see what took place in the days that were before my time.  As I read them, I could visualize the activities and the people mentioned.  I could sometimes follow months of letters written back and forth between people, making me almost feel like I was there.

For years, the main mode of communication was through letter writing.  It was expected that anyone in the family that traveled, visited, or lived away from home would write letters to their immediate family and close friends.  If family members neglected to write letters home to family and friends, they would often be reprimanded for their neglect.  It was something that was expected.  If someone wrote to you, then you were supposed to write back.  It was a breach of etiquette not to do so.

“Don’t forget to write!” used to be the last admonishment most people heard when they waved good-bye as they left home.

Letters used to be written daily to sweethearts and to those who were separated due to college, employment, or perhaps because of war.  As new methods of communication became available, such as the telegraph and telephone, most of them were still too new and expensive for the majority of people to use on a daily basis so they were used for important business or emergencies.

Our predecessors had many rules and guidelines for writing letters.  Some of the rules depended on the type of letter that was being written while others had to do with etiquette and courtesy.   The main types of letters written were either business letters or friendly letters.  Children were taught how to write letters in grade school and parents also assisted them in learning to write respectful letters using good manners.

Many of the rules seem strange or even funny to us these days but the rules were carefully followed by nearly everyone.

A few of the rules found in school books from the past were:
  • Do not attempt a letter unless you have something to say.

  • Do not use lined paper for a formal letter.

  • Don't write on a half-sheet of paper for the sake of economy

  • Never use fancy colored inks.  A black ink that flows smoothly should be used.  Rusty brown ink is offensive to the eye.

  • Do not conduct private correspondence on a postal card. It is almost considered an insult by some people to receive a postal card. They are very useful for business purposes, or for sending orders by mail, but for social correspondence are improper. It is not good manners to send personal notes that are open to inspection.

  • Never write an anonymous letter. It is cowardly.  The recipient of such a letter should quietly burn it. The man or woman who dares not sign his or her name is unworthy of notice.

  • Address your superiors and elders with respect. Do not write flippantly to any one.

  • Do not write a letter while in anger. You will surely say too much, which you will regret. Written words stand as living witnesses against you and cannot be recalled.

  • Do not commit a secret to paper. You can never tell what use may be made of it, or into whose hands it may fall.

  • Don't erase misspelled words in letters of importance; recopy the entire letter

  • Don't use a postscript except in very friendly letters

  • Don't underline words

  • Give every subject a separate paragraph

  • Don't refold the letter.  Be sure to fold it correctly the first time.

  • Don't fill up margins with forgotten ideas and messages but instead add an extra sheet to the letter

  • Read the letter over carefully before sending, correcting any error or doubtful statement.
Many people I have written to would quickly tell you that I have broken the very first rule!   In addition, my girlfriends and I used to write to each other, trying to see who could write on the strangest materials.  We sent letters back and forth on everything from the backsides of junk mail to paper napkins and toilet tissue.

These days, letter writing has become a very rare thing.  Most people would rather pick up the telephone and talk or send a text message while others prefer to e-mail, fax, or instant message over the computer.

Instant communication is great, especially for emergencies and even to quickly hear the news of an engagement, a new baby, or some other exciting information.  When my granddaughter was born, a picture was taken and sent by cell phone to her uncle in another state before she was even an hour old.

The problem with the instant communication that we have today is that most people don’t print out letters and keep them or even save them in files or on CDs.  There are a lot of notes and letters that will be lost because they have simply been deleted.

Even though we can strive to keep our letters on computer files or CDs, there really is something special to be said for that personal letter that is written in one’s own handwriting.  Most people probably don’t think of it as a treasure to keep at the time the letter is written or received but years later those letters from your mother, sister, or friend become more valuable to you, especially when those people are no longer living.  Not only do you have a copy of their words and thoughts but also an image of their own handwriting.

There are few people who probably sit down and write long letters to anyone these days.  What we call letters today are little more than notes jotted down in comparison to the time, thought, and effort that used to be put into a hand written letter.

It is amazing to us today to think that everything from a personal letter to lengthy books and volumes were one time started by dipping a pen in ink and putting thoughts on paper and it took a considerable amount of time.

Maybe it’s time that I dig out that box of stationery and write letters to my children.  Who knows, maybe they will keep them in a shoebox in their closets.  Generations from now, someone might open the box and say something like: “Wow, I found letters from a really strange ancestor, a real black sheep in the family, who wrote letters back in 2007.  She must have been either computer illiterate or too poor to buy one.”

On second thought, maybe I better save some of them on CDs too.  I think they will fit in a shoebox and maybe I can tie them up in bundles with some ribbon.

I believe I have some nice pink ribbon that should fade very nicely.

Well, good-bye for now and…

“Don’t forget to write!”

~ Pamela Perry Blaine ~
© April 25, 2007

About Pamela:  She enjoys writing, music, and country living.  She writes"Pam's Corner" for the local newspaper and many of her writings have been published on the internet as well as in several books.

Pam says, "I have loved music and writing ever since I can remember. I play piano at church and I'm an avid reader. One of my goals is to be able to write for my children and grandchildren so special memories will not be forgotten."  She has a CD entitled "I'll Walk You Home".  If you would like one, they are available by freewill donation.  More information as well as a clip from the CD is on her website at

[ By: Pamela Perry Blaine, Copyright © 2006 ( -- {used with permission} ]


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