Some of you may be aware that today is Valentine’s Day. Personally, my immediate family and I are not practitioners in the arts of giving greeting cards, flowers, stuffed animals, chocolates and whatever else might come on this particular day. In fact, when I first found out I was scheduled for today’s post, I felt that I had drawn the short straw (have I mentioned I’m not a fan of this “holiday”?), but a recent read and the fact that this month notes the 23rd anniversary of the blind date with the man who eventually became my husband, has given me some fodder for today’s post.
Our partnership which began all those years ago, was way before the age of Skype, Instagram, Snapchat and Twitter, and thus our long distance (he in Pittsburgh, me in Cleveland) relationship’s success relied on land lines, the Ohio and Pennsylvania Turnpikes (before EZPASS!) and the US Postal Service. Thanks to the Post Office playing the middle man, I have received some of the best gifts I could ever ask for – letters from a loved one.
I recently finished one of the best reads I’ve had in a long time – To the Letter: A Celebration of the Lost Art of Letter Writing by Simon Garfield. Now, I must admit that over the past two decades I have succumbed to the charms of e-mail, Twitter, and texting, and have become lazy when it comes to picking up the phone or the setting pen to paper and addressing an envelope. But reading Garfield’s work had me reminiscing of the good ‘ole days of sending postcards on vacations, writing to friends who were away for the summer or when I was away at college, and especially of those longed-for letters and cards from that man just a few hours away down Interstate.
Garfield’s work is a fantastic history of letter writing throughout the ages. Military missives, familial correspondences and various letter writing guidelines over centuries are captured in this work. He really seems to shine when focusing on the love letters between couples, some famous and some not so, throughout history – Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn, Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath, The Millers and Anais Nin, Charles Schultz and his various mistresses – or maybe it’s Garfield allowing those letters to shine for themselves that makes this such a wonderful read. Two of the most captivating couples interspersed throughout Garfield’s book Abelard and Heloise (12th century monk and his student), and Chris and Bessie (WWII British soldier and girlfriend). The latter is a couple whose letters are placed intermittently throughout the book, and the reader follows along as their relationship evolves from friends to fiancés. After following along with all these couples for 400 pages, it would be hard for anyone to come away from the experience without pining for the days before 140 character limitations.
Garfield mentions the emergence of letter writing clubs (knitting clubs, book clubs, cooking clubs, why not letter writing clubs!?) and other ways lovers of letters are trying to rekindle this lost art. Right here in Pittsburgh, our cultural partner and neighbor, The Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh, is hosting letter writing events today and tomorrow for the opening of their new exhibit XOXO: An Exhibit about Love and Forgiveness. I can’t think of a more perfect way to get into the habit of letter writing, renew old practices, fan some flames of love and create some life-long memories.