I’ve been thinking a lot about love letters lately. For the last few weeks, I’ve been working on an inspirational novel I wrote a few years ago called Love Notes. This week, I started writing a sequel to Night and Day called Daybreak in Denmark.
Night and Day, my first book, contained some very special – and revealing – letters from Maren Jensen, who had recently immigrated to Blooming Prairie, Minnesota, written to her cousin, Sophie, back in Slagerup, Denmark. Night and Day also contains some beautiful love notes from Anders Westerlund, sent from Denmark to Minnesota to Jensen Marie Christiansen, via email. One of my favorite scenes in Night and Day is when Jensen changes the font of an email she received from Anders to one that looks like handwriting, prints his letter on parchment paper, and lays it and a rose she picked from her garden on her pillow.
This morning on Facebook, my second cousin, Marcia, mentioned some letters that she received years ago from her Aunt Vic (my Grandma Victoria, who died at age 93, about 7 years ago). Her comment brought back a flood of memories, as I too used to get letters from my Grandma, special notes in birthday cards, then full-fledged, rambling epistles full of vignettes from her life and stories about aunts and uncles and cousins, even a few relatives I didn’t even know. The letters started when, at age 18, I went off to Wheaton College in Illinois, and followed me when I moved to Bar Harbor, Maine, Augsburg, Germany, Lawton, Oklahoma, and finally, Colorado Springs, Colorado. She stopped writing only when I stopped wandering and came home to northern Iowa / southern Minnesota. From that time on, I saw her and talked to her face to face almost every week.
Letters are a very interesting form of communication. In them, people sometimes dare to say things they would never say to someone were they talking to in person. An expression of love, a passionate – or angry – response, an accusation, a confession — why is it that many of us can say with our pen what we can’t with our lips?
Sometimes letters are simply a matter of practicality. Much as we wish never to be separated from the ones we love, it’s impossible to be two places at once, and sometimes we have to resort to letter writing to communicate. While cell phones, Skype and live chats on Facebook may have eradicated some of the impetus we used to have for writing letters, there is still a time and a place for a thoughtfully written, old-fashioned letter.
When I was in 5th grade, Roy Anderson and I got into trouble for writing love notes in class. We had to sit in the hall – together, on a small bench, just the two of us – over recess. We were so embarrassed by the end of the lunch period that I don’t think we spoke to each other again until graduation day.
The summer between my 7th and 8th grade years I wrote and re-wrote and re-wrote and finally mailed a love letter to a boy I had a crush on. Nothing ever came of it – I honestly can’t remember if I even signed it, but there was something very significant about the fact that I admitted my feelings.
When I was going through First Presbyterian’s Divorce Recovery Workshop, we were asked to write a letter to our ex-spouse, saying whatever we wanted or needed to say. At the end of the exercise, the letters were destroyed. Over 25 years later, I have no idea what I wrote, but I do remember that it was a very therapeutic way to clear the air.
When computers became the rage and internet dating- internet everything - came of age, I had a good advantage in that I knew how to write. E-mails were suddenly key, and I excelled at them. I was lousy at flirting, and awkward as all get out when it came to first dates, job interviews and loan applications, but I knew how to write, and because of it, many doors opened to me that might not have. I’ve always been better with words written than words said, and that simple fact has helped to shape my life.
There are everyday, run of the mill letters, and there are famous, life-changing letters that are known worldwide. Thomas Jefferson’s letters helped shape the course of our country. The Apostle Paul’s letters to the Galatians, Ephesians, Corinthians, and Philippians and to a young Timothy, written in the first century, still deeply influence the way many of us live our lives today.
My Grandma’s Danish cousin, Boyda, still has the real letters in which Maren Jensen poured out her heart to her cousin back in Denmark. They’re written in an old-world handwriting and cadence, and we may never know exactly what is said in them. But the mystery of those letters, and the little bit I do know of them, has already inspired a love story whose legend will live on. What is a book, if not a love letter written to our readers?