Love Letters

In Louisiana Ladies, Teri Netterville by Lola Magazine

And when written, these words have the potential to reach a time and place beyond our wildest imagination; possibly even to a place of infamy. Words are of immeasurable importance and when properly written, can be a healing salve to wounds of the heart.

Words are so powerful. They can build up, tear down, give clarity or confuse. They can change lives, transform hearts, bring together or drive apart. If used correctly, they have the capacity to inspire, encourage, entice and excite while also garnering the power to demean, wound, insult and crush.

Bottom line: Words matter. And the written word is a powerful tool.

Before the age of social media and the wide use of telecommunications, letters were one of the few ways couples communicated with one another while apart, particularly during wartime. For soldiers, letters from home were gifts of the present wrapped in the hopes for a future back home where their hearts desired. With each eloquently written letter, soldiers could, for a moment, drift back to the place and space far removed from the pain and fear they were experiencing in the midst of war…back to home.

They might have been trapped in a foxhole covered in muck and mud, but with one glimpse of a carefully scripted letter, usually found folded neatly somewhere inside their uniform, these soldiers could be transported back home. The smell of burning firewood and the sounds of chirping crickets out by the boondocks were brought to life by the pen of the author who took the time to remind them of their life back home. These soldiers heartily admitted that those letters oftentimes gave them just the push they needed to keep pressing towards their ultimate goal of freedom and home. When researching letters from that time period for this piece, I found myself entrenched in the love stories that unfolded through every word. I melted at the heartfelt sentiments and then found myself aching for these couples who, through their correspondence with the other, painted a vivid portrait of what each was experiencing. For many families, these letters have become a chronicle of the war, as well as a testament of the love among their loved ones who were forced apart during wartime.

One gets a real sense that letters during those war torn times became the life-line for many soldiers who felt as though they were drowning in despair. Whether during WWI or WWII, those tattered and torn letters from the trenches were so poignant and revealed such passion that without these tangible treasures, these love stories would have died along with the many souls who perished during those heart wrenching times in our history. There is a beauty to the handwritten word that is as unique as the thumbprint of the person who has written it.

Growing up, I knew at first-glance if words were written by my father, mother, aunts, grandmothers or siblings. I can’t recall the handwritings of my uncles, but I can only surmise that it is because my aunts wrote on behalf of them. A “tradition” that remains today. During my growing up years, I remember my mom had a metal lockbox filled to the brim with love letters that our dad wrote to her from the time they were high school sweethearts and throughout their 45 years together. We were never allowed in that box, but I remember thinking how lucky they were to have a love like theirs. A love so grand and so passionate that she had to lock it up.

My paternal grandmother, Gracie, also had a treasure box full of the same kinds of love letters written to her from my grandfather, Otis Spinks. There were letters to her from the time he was a young Methodist preacher and she, a young valedictorian in high school, until he was in his seventies and a stroke kept him from penning his love to her anymore.

Sixty plus years later when I lived across the street from her during my last two years at La. Tech, my grandmother allowed me to read some of those love letters one night. My gosh, the love my grandfather poured into those tattered and torn pages for my grandmother was remarkable. I can only compare them to the love he expressed for the Lord in the hundreds and thousands of sermons he wrote and typed for his many congregations. Think for a moment about the significance of the lost art of handwritten letters. To have a tangible sense of another’s love for you, through timeless love letters, is a gift that transcends time and space. ….and even death.

For the time it takes to reread an ageless letter from your beloved, you can for a moment in time reach beyond the veil that separates heaven and earth and hold your loves hand once more and remember when.

I still in this age of texting, insta-messaging and quick emails, love old-fashioned hand-written letters. Maybe it’s because I come from a long line of sentimental saps who feel a great need to pen their feelings on paper to their loved ones; or maybe I’m just a techno-impaired middle-aged gal who finds it quite difficult to dive into this frigid computerized world we now live in to communicate my deepest thoughts and feelings to another. In the back of my closet, I have in my possession a box of some old high school notes and letters from high school friends whom I fondly remember…and quite frankly, from some I have completely forgotten about.

In the age before insta-messaging such as texting, snapchat, instagram, twitter, facebook and all of those other text-it-out-then-read-before-it-disappears outlets this younger generation is accustomed to, my generation, during school hours, communicated through handwritten notes that you would slyly, (and often sneakily) pass to the recipient while you both walked through the crowded halls on your way to your next class period. These notes, usually written in a high school girl’s big bubble hand-writing style were full of information that would keep your mind occupied for at least the first five minutes of the next class. But it was the science behind the folding of these high school notes that was the real art of the high school letter. Not only was it important, but it was necessary….AND universally accepted. It’s true. This kind of high school note folding was done the same in the south as it was in the north, east and the west.

Some of you 80’s kids are remembering right now how we folded those notes. To fold it correctly, you had to take the right-hand corner of your 8×10 loose-leaf notebook paper and fold it 3/4 of the way down on the left side. Then, you pressed the crease flat. After that step, you took the bottom right hand corner and folded it evenly to match up with the bottom left hand corner. Next, you flipped the whole thing over on its flipside and folded it one and then two times leaving a big triangle at the top. This triangular top flap was hugely important to the entire letter staying folded and in tact. You would fold that entire top part down and then with that teeny tiny triangular tip that was then left out, you would tuck that part into the fold leaving just enough tip out that it became the tab that the recipient would simply pull in order to release the entire note.

When between girls and their friends, the content usually revolved around a boy she had a crush on or maybe plans for the weekend.However, if those notes were passed from a boy to a girl, those particular notes were golden. So rare, in fact, that it was usually read by the girl, PLUS then dissected for hours by her entire squad of BFF’s once school was dismissed. Although those old high school notes were not as significant as the letters between wartime lovers, they were special just the same in their own way.

My mom did something very special for us four kids one Valentine’s Day after Dad died. She made copies of some of her old love letters from Dad, then used them to wrap some good smelling soap that remain in the dish that she sent them in. I treasure those bars of soap. And not because the soap smells so good. I treasure them because they are truly wrapped in love, true love. Of the earthly belongings left behind by a loved one who has perished, (speaking only for myself, of course), among the most cherished treasures that one can possess are the handwritten letters left behind by the one who no longer lives on this earth. Their thoughts and opinions seem to matter tenfold, and you tend to study their words like you are on a course to find gold on a treasure map.

I would love to challenge you to take the time to pen a love letter to anyone and everyone you love.

Keep it personal. Keep it sweet. Keep it thoughtful. And as ever…Keep it real. 😉