Wartime Letters

High on a shelf in the closet of my parents’ bedroom there was a box full of letters, written from 1942–1944. It was wartime, and my father, a Lieutenant in the U.S. Navy, was stationed in Tiburon, but spent his days on a World War I era minesweeper, the U.S.S. Eider. He was 21 years old in 1942, and my mother was 19. As a teenager, I very much wanted to read the letters, but because I was told not to, I didn’t. There are two kinds of children, it seems: those who won’t take no…

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Mailbox Magic
Mailboxes, Sausalito, CA Photo by Tibby Storey

Mailbox Magic

The magic of a mailbox is not necessarily what it looks like, but what it contains. That special envelope, perhaps a baby announcement, a love letter, an official job offer, or even a much-needed tax refund check, are all pieces of mail that can brighten one’s day. When I left home for the first (and last) time at the age of 17 to attend the University of California, Berkeley, a mere ten miles from my home town of Lafayette, California, it was a given that surprise in-person visits from family were not allowed. This was my…

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Winter Mailbox

It’s that time of year again. As fall moves into winter, the days grow shorter, darkness comes early, the weather turns gloomy and our mailboxes are filled to capacity, thanks to a series of cyclical events. First, election season mail begins as early as August and generally ends the first week of November. Campaign flyers and brochures, endorsement cards and newsletters pile up quickly. Smiling candidates, often posed with adorable children, become familiar faces. The closer and more heated the race, the more likely it is that the direct mail pieces will multiply and take on…

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Indiscreet Letters

This has not been a good week for the legacy of Warren G. Harding, 29th President of the U.S., 1921 –1923. Harding’s failures as President have been extensively documented. His short-lived administration was rocked by corruption and scandal overshadowed his accomplishments, resulting in his rankings being consistently the lowest of all of the U.S. Presidents. And now his indiscreet letters have been revealed. The Library of Congress has unsealed his previously unpublished letters to his mistress, Carrie Fulton Phillips, the wife of one of his close friends. The letters, mostly written prior to his Presidency, are…

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Gratitude: The Art of the Thank You Note

Despite the accelerating demise of the personal, handwritten letter, the art of bread and butter letters and thank you notes appears to have continuing life. Expressing gratitude sometimes can be difficult, but even a brief note of thanks is always welcome, and one of the most meaningful and important communications we undertake. While social usage evolves over time, good manners are timeless. In Your Best Foot Forward: Social Usage for Young Moderns (McGraw Hill Book Company, Inc., c. 1940) by Dorothy Stratton and Helen B. Schleman, the authors advise that “You are expected to write a…

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Early Letters of Harvey Milk

San Francisco celebrated Pride in big style this past weekend, a fitting time to pay tribute to the late gay activist and internationally famous icon, Harvey Milk, with a look at letters from his early, pre-political life. Harvey Milk was born in New York in 1930, nearly 40 years before Stonewall and 42 years before his move to San Francisco that changed the course of history. Through his letters, written 1956–1962 to his good friend, Susan Davis Alch, a picture emerges of a young man preoccupied with universal concerns: love, work, money (mostly, lack of), where…

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Celebrating the Joys of Letter Writing

Books to Read Signed, Sealed, Delivered by Nina Sankovitch When Nina Sankovitch and her husband went house hunting “years ago,” they find a run-down house on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, built in 1888, but unoccupied for the past15 years. The house includes some old, dusty furniture, rotting floors and obsolete plumbing and electrical systems, but somehow, it is just right for them. Despite escalating real estate values, their offer is accepted, despite better offers that come in after their bid. Thus begins the saga of Signed, Sealed, Delivered: Celebrating the Joys of Letter Writing (not…

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Letters We Love to Receive

In the words of the great P.D. James, 93-year old doyenne of English crime fiction, “No literary form is more revealing, more spontaneous or more individual than a letter.” But what distinguishes some letters from others, those letters that are pure pleasure to read, opened with eager anticipation? The letters that are read many times over, and then saved, in a drawer or file, box or basket? To some extent, the answer lies with the recipient’s relationship with the sender. Letters from a spouse, child, beloved aunt, cousin, grandmother, lover, close friend, are surely the ones…

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The Overdue Letter

A letter, especially one that is meaningful to both the sender and the receiver, may be fraught with emotion. Letters can convey multiple emotions, including love, regret, despair, joy and anger. Many of us have experienced the satisfaction of putting our angry feelings into writing. This can be a good device for cooling off and collecting oneself, whether the letter is actually sent or not. A recent opinion piece in The New York Times, penned by Maria Konnikova, The Lost Art of the Unsent Angry Letter, received a strong response from readers, with many sharing their own…

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Welcome to Social Correspondence

Welcome to Social Correspondence! This blog is dedicated to the art of letter writing. Too few of us actually receive “real” letters in the mail. For the most part, we don’t write them either. Letters in the mail were once a lifeline for people. Rather than placing expensive phone calls or using hand delivered missives, the U.S. Postal Service was the primary means of staying in touch with friends and loved ones and for business transactions. Today communication comes with many options. We can text, email, and use social media. We even can look at one…

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