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Letters leave a legacy for loved ones

Sunday, December 15, 2002

How rare a personal letter will be in years to come. In fact, it is rare today. More's the pity.

Many of us have succumbed to e-mail, myself included, although I still try to write my fair share of notes and letters by hand, because I know how much receiving such a note means to me.

Although I appreciate receiving e-mail, handwriting identifies you, much like a photo, to those you love.

In years to come, someone will chance upon a letter you wrote and will be richer for it.

Recently, I came across letters I have saved from my son, from friends and from readers, many of which I treasure.

Some of the letters I found were from my father.

His letters could move me, make me think and make me proud.

He rambles at times. (I think I inherited that characteristic from him.)

But my father -- even when he took a long time to say it --created a vivid picture of where he was, what he was doing and, especially, what he was feeling.

He wrote it. He seldom said it.

He was not one to emote. Nor was he particularly outgoing in showing affection. He required it, and my mother, sister and I obliged with lots of hugs and kisses. He, on the other hand, did not give strong embraces. But his face glowed when we showered him with love.

In his letters, he showed what made him tick. His love, caring and intelligence are exposed in the familiar and legible (rare for a doctor) handwriting, which was between printing and calligraphy.

Until my mother died, there was no reason for him to write to me. I wasn't far away, and I would see my parents most weekends.

When she died suddenly in January 1975, he was alone for the first time in his life. He wasn't well then (they were both hospitalized during Christmas in 1974) or in the four years he lived after that.

But he wrote to me almost every day.

Then he wanted to say all that was on his mind. He allowed his heart to show, and to break, just by putting an exclamation point at the end of a sentence.

I couldn't help but slide to the floor and read some of the letters again. It was as if he was talking to me and yes, at times, even hugging me.

There are days you need a hug.

I have him in my memory, which makes the letters come to life.

But the reason for keeping them is to allow my son to know the grandfather he never really got to know. He died when my son was 8.

My father, not being well his last few years, was gruff. He was critical. He had forgotten that children make noise and run around a lot, so I think my son felt restricted with his grandfather.

But his softer side, his concern for my son's future and his love for him are in all these letters.

He wrote of the kindness of his apartment neighbors, his daily walks, the weather report and appreciation for something as trivial as a thinly sliced Canadian bacon sandwich. He just penned what his life was on a daily basis.

The simplest things sounded like poetry.

I had apologized for often typing my letters. He answered with "typed or handwritten, I'm thankful for all letters, just as long as they tell me you are well and happy."

And then: "Our Drew is maturing beautifully, and what a blessing he is. He has a daddy. Why couldn't it have been heavenly from the beginning?"

Why, indeed? We talked little about my divorce. But I knew he agonized. The way I knew was by reading his letters. He worried about his grandson's future.

"Don't let him play ball too often or for too long. The heat is dangerous." He worried. I, too, am a worrier.

When I would see him, he would say very little. When he wrote, he spoke volumes.

Talking is good. Maybe it is even better than a letter, but when the talk is over, it's gone.

With a letter, you can have that conversation over and over again.

Take pen in hand. Leave a legacy.

Barbara Cloud may be reached atbcloud@post-gazette.com .

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