Letters from the Past

During one of the latest excursions into my landfill of accumulated crap - why am I such a packrat? - we found, buried in the back of a shelf somewhere, a harmonica folder stuffed with letters and cards from the early 80s to the mid-90s. As nothing is safe from my attempts to minimize aforementioned accumulated crap, we put it somewhere where I could reach it and every day, I've been picking up a handful of envelopes, going through them and deciding which to keep and which to not.

I used to be a dedicated letter writer. Before the age of e-mail reduced me to typing a quick few lines and clicking send, I wrote long, chatty letters to friends back in Denmark and a number of penfriends all over the world and they wrote long, chatty letters back. What a concept, eh? We were heavy card users, sending funny, thoughtful and occasionally mushy cards to each other and it was nice having things in the mail that didn't have a window in it and going through these piles of cards from pretty much everybody I knew at the time has been a nice reminder that it doesn't take very long to write a few lines, slap a stamp on an envelope and make someone's day. I think I want to do that more.

These letters and cards from before are roughly half and half from people who are still in my life and others who I no longer know. There are Christmas cards and birthday cards, Easter cards and just-because cards and although I no longer have many of these people in my life, I recognized the writing instantly, hardly ever having to take the card out of the envelope to see who it was from. There were cards from family and friends, parents and friends, old boyfriends, cards of congratulations when I got my MSW, cards from my 30th birthday (oh, it seems so long ago), a faded fax from AB with the ad and floorplan of the house she and her husband bought and three cards with the strong, angular writing of my father and those felt like a hug.

Sitting here, surrounded by reminders of relationships, some still strong and some but ghosts, I was surprised by how little regret I experienced about the latter. I've always found it very hard to lose the ones I care about, often thinking about reestablishing contact, but apparently it becomes easier as you grow older. Or maybe it is growing wise enough to know why some people are still here and why some are not. And the cards from most of the people who are no longer in my life, I threw out. Initially, it felt wonderfully liberating - there's nothing better than reducing a pile by half - but the more of the envelopes that went in the trash, the more it felt as if I were erasing my past and that didn't feel quite as liberating.

A big part of history is found in letters from the past - they give us a sense of who people really were, what they did, what social values and conventions look like at the time and entire books are published containing nothing but the letters of people of note. And within families, letters between great-grandparents or aunts or the cousins who moved to another country tell us who our family is, informs our sense of place and roots us in a continuity. And I wondered about the people who will go through my things when I die (me? Morbid? Naaah…) and know that they will find a part of my life they may not have known about through these cards and letters, but because I threw out everything I'd ever received from this person or that, there will be no sign, no proof that they were ever in my life, despite some of these relationships lasting years, even decades. And that felt very, very weird.

I still tossed ‘em, though.

And speaking of leaving things in the past… I cracked, found a vague, sort of plausible excuse and got things fixed


Ahh. Much better.

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