One evening, when I was in my early twenties and working at a small weekly newspaper, I met my parents for dinner at a restaurant in Tukwila, Washington; the halfway point between my home in Everett and theirs in Tacoma.
That was more than 20 years ago, and while I can’t remember details of the meal, I’m certain our conversation revolved around my job and new apartment. How do I know? I have a handwritten letter my dad sent to me a few days later. It was just three short paragraphs, written in his distinctive blocky cursive on his company’s stationery, and included this sentence:
“I’m so proud of how you’re doing on your own I can hardly stand it.”
This is one of several such handwritten letters my dad snail-mailed to me over the years. I’m sure he had no idea I would keep his notes, but they’ve since become treasured tokens. My dad passed away three years ago, but I’ve found that I can keep his memory alive by re-reading his letters whenever I’m missing him.
Bringing back the written word
My dad knew something many of us have forgotten – or never knew in the first place: taking the time to put thoughts on paper imparts sentiment in a way electronic messages simply cannot. And while quick texts and emails are today’s most popular methods of communication, the handwritten letter is making a comeback.
Seattle’s Rachel Brandzel Weil is the owner of The Letter Farmer, a combination pop-up letter writing experience and mobile retail stationery shop. She’s found a way to bring back what many consider a lost art.
Weil parks her mobile truck filled with stationery products at festivals and special events throughout Seattle (she’s a regular at Seattle’s Fremont Solstice celebration, as well as at area farmers’ markets in the summer) and invites people to sit down and write a free letter or postcard. “What to say” cue cards help get the juices flowing. Weil provides fancy writing tools (quills, fountain pens, colored pencils) and even sealing wax to finish off your letter.
She started The Letter Farmer in the summer of 2016 as a way foster authentic human connections.
“The experience of reading a letter that is tactile – (it) may have smudged ink or a torn edge, or maybe it’s written on really crazy paper – brings an element that is unmatched in digital communication,” says Weil. “Handwriting, whether beautiful or messy, is part of who we are and brings a personal element not duplicated by a font.”
And like the notes from my dad, such letters remind us of the person who sent them – much more than a text or email ever can.
“The crossed-out words, the coffee stain, or the way they addressed the envelope (are) things that give us a little ‘piece’ of the sender,” says Weil, “and we can hold onto that as long as we want.”
Many ways to write
If Weil’s mobile truck doesn’t make its way to your neighborhood, there are plenty of other ways to bring handwritten communications back into your life.
Drug stores and variety stores sell multi-packs of small tent-style notecards. Most are blank inside for a message of your own. Your sentiment doesn’t have to be long. Start off with, “I wanted to thank you for lunch last week,” or “I really miss you and would love to see you again,” and go from there.
If you need a little more help getting started, online stationery stores sell postcards and notecards you can customize with a photo and any text you’d like. A card with a photo of your family or pets, accompanied by a pre-printed, “Just a note to say hi!” can be enough to rekindle an old friendship or just let someone know you care.
If you’re still stumped about how to start, the internet is here to help. This Wikihow website walks you through the steps of letter writing (begin with pleasantries, share news, etc.), and even offers some sample letters to get you started.
The holidays are a perfect time to send some handwritten letters to your friends and loved ones. Maybe you’ll receive some mail back that will become as special to you as my dad’s letters are to me.
Image: Letter from author’s father