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28 August, 2016


Letter writing is truly a lost art -- a vintage skill, if you will. The flow of the pen gracefully etching out your thoughts to someone…

The mere idea of letter writing gives me cause to pause. I fully acknowledge how crazy it is today to think about letter writing in this text-crazed society where attention spans are about five minutes long and where we can’t be bothered typing full words, using proper grammar or punctuation.

Letters used to be a staple of communication. Sending news, keeping war-separated lovers connected, sharing a tasty bit of gossip or a way to make a friend half way around the world. Letters record our thoughts, our history. Letters, in the day, helped maintain life-long friendships and nurture family connections.

There is nothing quite like the personal touch of a handwritten letter -- the paper filled with the ink of someone’s pen; and the handwriting that is unmistakably their own. Handwriting takes effort and a degree of practice (or lack of it).  It is not a font downloaded from a computer program. There is simply nothing quite as personal as someone’s handwriting.

A text or an e-mail is not usually well thought out. It is merely a convenient way to send a hasty greeting, a few thoughts or a list of details of some kind in a business sense. But letter writing takes time, effort and reflection to convey thoughts, emotions, expressions of love and news of importance.

Long after we are gone, no one will care about the million electronic texts we may have generated. But a letter will last like a saved treasure. It can even be passed down to future generations. Can you think of a single email that would be worth printing out and storing away for posterity? Letters are legacy!

I have several letters written almost 100 years ago by a grandparent and an aunt and uncle, all of whom passed away before I was born, but I cherish them as a link to the past and an otherwise missed family connection.  I know them through their written words.
Gladys (left) and Jeannie, life-time pen pals.

I came across a story earlier this week that exemplifies the impact that letters can have in people's lives.

There was a time when people became what was known as 'pen pals' and wrote letters back and forth. In the back of magazines, there were classified ads that also had a category 'Pen Pal Wanted'. You could have the magazine post your name and age and a postal box to which replies could be made.

When Gladys Diacur placed an ad in 1943, little did she know that it would result in a life-long friendship.  "I must have had 100 responses," says Diacur, "and I met approximately 11 of them but we never hit it off. Then I met Jeannie O'Reilly and 73 years later we are still the best of friends."

For 73 years, from the time they were 12 and 13, the two women corresponded almost weekly, although one lived in Hamilton and the other in nearby St. Catherines.

O'Reilly now lives in a Southampton home for seniors and, when she had her own home, Diacur drove from the city almost every summer to visit. A stroke resulted in her not being able to drive her car any longer but, on Tuesday, August 23rd, she was driven by a friend and the two pen pals got together once again to reminisce over old times.

They laughed and talked about all the boys they had written about in their teens ... things that only teenage girls share with each other.  They kept all their letters over the years but, unfortunately, a fire destroyed O'Reilly's copies some time ago.

For Jeannie O'Reilly and Gladys Diacur, now both in their eighties, those good-time days are gone but they remember writing the letters as though it were yesterday and, for them, they've had a friendship to treasure and one that very few people today will ever know.  Good for them!...Too bad for most others who live in today's cold world of electronic technology and abbreviated, impersonal communications.

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