friendship Relationships writers writing

Epistolary Friendship

letter writing, jennifer luitwieler
Tulsa Hotspot, Cain’s

A dear pen pal of years gone by, someone to whom I’ve not written a letter in years, asked me recently if I’d like to rekindle our letter writing. Twenty years ago, before email and texting, we sent postcards to each other each week. For about three years.

I am embarrassed that I haven’t written a letter to anyone in years.

During high school, my mother left me notes around the house. Just short “love you!” tucked into a book I was reading, or “have a good day” at my place at the kitchen table. Sometimes she left for work before we could talk. Other days, I was being a real teenage jerk, but her notes told me despite my tantrums, home was always a good place to be.

Through college my mother wrote me letters. Long letters about what Dad was planting in the garden, or how their last trip was. What the people at work were doing or the house across the street being sold. She always wrote something sort of cryptic, like, “Jennifer,” (where I’d stop to roll my eyes. No one calls me that.) “You are a talented woman with so much to offer the world. Your dad and I pray that you grow into your whole being.” Or something like that.

Maybe other readers don’t think that’s cryptic. Maybe it seems fairly simple. But mothers and daughters have a tenuous relationship, in my experience. When I read letters from my mother, I grasped for the hidden meaning. “What does that mean?” I’d ask as I read.

Her subtext was usually:

I love you.

Yesterday, I pulled out a card from a stack I’d been given, notes with prints of Tulsa’s most famous spots—yes, Tulsa has famous spots—to write my first letter. I filled my favorite fountain pen with purple ink, my favorite color. I thought about Abigail Adams, whose letters to her husband are famous for the intimate look at their romance and friendship. I thought of John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, erstwhile enemies who became penpals in late life. They wrote lengthy letters about their hopes for this grand experiment. They talked of politics and the farming life.

I imagined our letters would be similar in scope and tone; I was profoundly underimpressed. Because I do not see my friend regularly, though we connect online, I don’t know the daily frustrations on her mind today. I don’t know how the kids’ school years went or how she and her husband are doing with that one thing they were talking about. And she doesn’t know mine.

My letter is essentially a rough outline of what I hope to fill in over time: work, kids, life, marriage, faith. As if I’m sending her advance warning of the chaos that will ensue. And I will. I will write a longer letter, with more and better details. I will fill her in on the one most pressing issue on my mind, and the peripherals that distract me.

Letters are a heart on a page. They take time and energy and thought. One doesn’t just lay it all out there, gore and all in the first stab. We are going to flex our writing and thinking and communicating muscles and rekindle our lost ritual, a lost art and a more lasting relationship between us.

Do you write letters?


7 Comment

  1. My grandma used to send out at least one card or letter a day, if not more. She had a long list of contacts and kept up with birthdays and prayer requests. She was amazing! I try to send birthday cards or “just thinking of you” cards to my closest friends but it’s an area I could stand to improve in.

    When my friend Allison moved away during high school, she and I would write lengthy tomes to each other every few weeks. Around the time of college, the practice died off. But she came across my blog along the way and decided to send me a card on my 30th birthday. I was so touched by her written response to a few of the posts I’d written. It reminded me of the letters we used to send each other. I proposed we become pen pals again and so we have, although we don’t impose any guidelines or expectations on how soon to write back. It’s been fun getting to know her all over again by mail.

    Enjoy corresponding with your friend!

  2. I am reading a book all about letters from father to son, Jay & Bud Wilkinson, and it has prompted me to write to my own children. Beautiful post, thank you for the inspiration!

    1. What a great sounding book. Let me know more, please? I have a book of letters from the founding fathers that really impresses. Maybe you have a friend you want to reconnect with the old fashioned way.

  3. I love your reflections about the notes your mother left for you, and the central love they communicated: “Other days, I was being a real teenage jerk, but her notes told me despite my tantrums, home was always a good place to be.”

    And I love this perfect description of what this letter writing business is all about: “We are going to flex our writing and thinking and communicating muscles
    and rekindle our lost ritual, a lost art and a more lasting relationship
    between us.” It seems like a very worthy thing to be devoting time to. The fact that it doesn’t involve sitting in front of a computer makes it even better!

  4. Hello! I’ve recently discovered your blog and I love your texts! This one is specially nice.. I would love to have someone to write letters to. Do you remember how you met this friend and started writing to her?

    Laura (your secret admirer until now)

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