It might be a dying art, but there is something so special about the handwritten letter.

I have saved so many over the years; some from friends, most from family.


Painting. Pietro Rotari. 1755

None were more special than those from my Aunt Mary.

She was 6 years younger than my mother, her only sister. She was more devoted to the written word than anyone I knew.

She wrote constantly. She read everything.

It was a passion that started very young.

She was stricken with polio as a toddler, spent most of her childhood in a Shriner’s Hospital in Philadelphia, never attended a formal school.

Bright, curious, determined, with a few tutors, she was mostly self-taught.

Books opened doors to a rich, informed life.

Conversant in popular culture, a devoted fan of cinema, TV, modern and classic literature; she was also politically aware, passionately opinionated.

She was also a foodie, wine enthusiast, gourmet cook. Engaged a few times, but mostly single until age 70, she married a widower that she knew from her daily subway commute to a job at AT&T.

She and my mother exchanged handwritten letters every week for their entire life. When I left for college, she began writing to me.

Her letters were full of life philosophy, current events, advice, and the most vivid details of her not-so-ordinary life. They were special, I would often quote from them, to the point where friends would look forward to my trip to the dorm mailbox, asking if there was a letter from Aunt Mary.

For decades, we exchanged those letters. There were some gaps in time when life got a bit crazy for us both. Months, even years passed.

But oh, what a joy it was to start up the exchange once again.

I have hundreds of them. I hope to find a way to compile them one day. Maybe in that first published book, maybe just as a way to pass along some of her wisdom to the next generations.

She passed away in her sleep at age 80 in 2012.

Her joy of living, her love of family, her wisdom and her many words survive.

This entry was posted in Art, Childhood, Education, Family, Inspiration, Writing and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

99 Responses to Letters

  1. Sue Vincent says:

    That’s a lovely story, Van, of a great family friendship.

  2. Micki Allen says:

    What a sweet tribute to your Aunt Mary. Thank you for sharing.
    I love sending and receiving hand-written letters. There’s something so nostalgic and inherently feminine about them.

  3. The V Pub says:

    You have a treasure trove of her memories. So many people pass on without leaving so many wonderful memories in the form of the written word.

  4. I treasure hand-written notes, cards, and letters. 🍓

  5. how very special! What a remarkable person and relationship that you shared! I love hand written letters!

  6. macjam47 says:

    What a beautiful story, and what a gift she left you. I think you have sealed your fate – put those letters into a book.

  7. Great tribute. Do it

  8. What a beautiful tribute to your aunt, Van. She sounds fascinating. Clearly a formal education isn’t the end all. A curious and determined mind will shine one way or another. Compiling her letters and publishing them would be great fun 🙂

    • She would have been shocked to know I’d even consider it, D. She ended all her letters with “excuse the spelling errors”. I never had any problem with them. It added to the charm. Thanks. ☺

      • A friend of mine’s aunt wasn’t allowed to learn to read, so she taught herself by reading the newspapers that the family used to paper the walls. When her father found out what she was doing, he started plastering them to the wall upside down. So she learned to read upside down print. Your aunt’s determination and spirit reminded me a bit of that. 🙂

      • Seriously..not allowed ? Where/when did she grow up…that’s hard to imagine. Thanks for sharing, Diana.

      • Rural Oregon. It would have been about a 100 years ago.

      • Amazing, isn’t it…to fear that women might become educated. We’ve come a long way (baby) ☺

  9. nancyruth says:

    What a nice tribute to your aunt. I think my sister has saved all the letters my mother wrote to her. I have a few but they are mostly what I wrote to mom! Emails are not quite the same.

  10. Erika Kind says:

    That is such a treasure! If there are letters over decades like you have them you can also see changes or developments in the person.
    I am glad I saved the many letters from my grandfather. I think today we value it even more to get handwritten letters or cards!

  11. Nurse Kelly says:

    What a beautiful recollection of a very special person. And how nice that she married at the age of 70! I love letters as well, and have saved many. I love to write in cursive too, a soon to be thing of the past… will anyone know how to sign their name anymore? Strange to think about! 🙂

  12. Elyse says:

    Letters are a gem that you shared together. I have many that I’ve saved over the years in no organized fashion. But when I come upon one, I hold it close, realizing that someone I loved held that letter close once, too. It is wonderfully comforting.

  13. Ritu says:

    Aw Van! That is so sweet! I agree, letter writing is a dying art… I try to get my kids to write a letter once in a while, to my mum, and then she writes back!! It gives them encouragement, and hopefully will help them begin to build memories too!

  14. I hope you do use the letters to inspire a novel or other project. It’s obvious from the hunger of fellow college classmates that these letters capture the interest of others.

  15. C.E.Robinson says:

    A lovely tribute to your Aunt Mary! Reminds me of a great-aunt Alvina who wrote me letters when I was in my 50s. She was old, and lovingly wise! I’ve re-read those letters many times. 💛 Elizabeth

  16. AmyRose🌹 says:

    Oh my gosh, Van, you must find a way to publish these letters. I am just intrigued about this. And to have passed in sleep … oh the perfect way to end a life. She must have been quite a woman. How fortunate for you that she chose to be your Aunt Mary. 🙂 ❤

  17. I love the way you write! I think you must take after your Aunt in many ways!

  18. George says:

    There are few things more intimate than a handwritten note or letter. Wonderful story, Van.

  19. LaVagabonde says:

    I hope you find a way to arrange the letters into a book. Handwriten letters are such treasures.

  20. Oh how wonderful.. I also love to write and hope I still have one of my Grandmas in the loft somewhere hidden away… We lived 40 miles away and I would spend most of the school holidays with her and in between we would write..
    Only last week I found an old fountain pen out and recharged it with Ink.. Nothing beats writing this way.. 🙂
    One of my joy treats to have bought me was a blank note book so I could write in it..

    Letters sadly are out of fashion replaced by the mobile phones and emails..

    I hope you find time to compile them all.. What wonderful memoirs they would contribute to 🙂

  21. amommasview says:

    Maybe for now you can simply scan them and save them in digital form as well? Then just make a book of letters?

  22. I was going to suggest that you compile them as I read until I got to the bottom and saw that you had the same thought. She sounds like a very interesting and astute lady. I like such family stories. It warms the heart and it’s really sad that the art of writing has gone with the wind 🙂

  23. Wonderful memories and a lovely story, Van! 🙂

  24. lbeth1950 says:

    I have been hoping for this post ever since you told me about your aunt. I so hope there will be more.

    • I’ve thought a lot about it since that conversation with you. Lately, a lot of attention toward handwriting, letter-writing has me moving forward. Thanks, Linda. 💕

  25. lbeth1950 says:

    Reblogged this on Nutsrok and commented:
    Reblogged from Vanbytheriver. I do hope for more!

  26. A wonderful tribute to your aunt… 🙂

  27. olganm says:

    I agree with the suggestions of publishing her letters or sharing them some way. We’re all intrigued.

  28. This post made me smile. I have a box filled with every letter ever written to me. My kids think I am the sole supporter of snail mail. E-mails are nice but nothing speaks to me in the same way as opening a letter written personally for me. Every detail from the paper that was chosen, to the unique handwriting it’s all so great. Thanks for sharing. G-uno

  29. joliesattic says:

    When my son was in the Marines and living abroad, he specifically asked me to send him handwritten letters. Not typed, as I was inclined to write them in word first then printed. No, he wanted them to be by hand, mistakes and all. And for me handwritten includes lots of errors since my mind is way ahead and it can sometimes come out jumbled. Printed, I could correct, but that’s not what he wanted. I guess it felt like he could observe my spirit somehow or feel more bound to me and that made me feel cherished.

  30. How fortunate you are to have known her….she sounds wonderful.

  31. What a great legacy she left. 🙂 — Suzanne

  32. Patricia says:

    You have spoken of your Aunt Mary before and I was touched. Now to find out that she wrote those wonderful letters adds to my vision of her as a wonderful aunt to have had. I have been writing letters to our grandchildren since we have so much trouble with the internet and cell service. I have taken them off the hook by telling them that they needn’t worry if they don’t have time to write back so that they won’t begin to dread my letters. When one of my grandmother’s would call, we would grimace because we knew that she was going to ask if we were going to attend church so I put in that escape clause to prevent their feeling that way. Sounds like I am building in a safety net for myself doesn’t it? Hmm.

    • Not so much a safety net, but a relationship that you’re building, Patricia. Very kind of you to remove the pressure, and the judgment that we were often exposed to from our family, especially the elders. They will appreciate that, and your letters one day. 💕 Thanks for your lovely comment.

  33. Sadie's Nest says:

    How wonderful! I love handwritten letters, I really should send them more often!

  34. joey says:

    That’s a wonderful tribute.
    I suspect you’re trying to kill me with all the verklempt today!
    Handwritten anything is such a rarity anymore. My mother and I write infrequently now. Before the internet, we both wrote often, to one another, and to others.
    I have two decades of written correspondence between The Mister and me. ❤

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