Letter-Writing Day

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For writer Monica Sharman, her family's tradition of writing handwritten letters makes her happy, especially when epistles fly between her sons and their dry-witted great-grandfather.

When my son makes a birthday card, he doesn’t just write “Happy Birthday.” He writes “Happy” over and over again—the same number of times as the birthday person’s number of years. Last year, he wrote “Happy” on my birthday card forty-two times.

He picked up this habit from his great-grandfather.

My husband declared the first Sunday of every month "Letter-Writing Day" so our three sons would grow up knowing how to write letters—the pen-on-paper, stamp-on-envelope, delivered-by-postal-carrier kind. Our sons wrote to anyone they choose. Often, the letter was for the person who wrote back last time.

Often, Great Granddad, my husband’s paternal grandfather, was their choice. He wrote back with “original art” on the stationery: a smiling head drawn at the bottom, next to his signature. The head, representing himself, had a single curly hair on top, Charlie Brown–style. He wrote in print, not cursive, and put a distinctive curl at the beginning or ending of some letter strokes. The downward mini-flourish at the end of his "s" was most memorable to me.

Great Granddad’s letters often included a joke. (Why did the golfer throw away his socks? Because he had a hole in one.) My sons sometimes replied with jokes of their own. Even without the jokes, his sense of humor came through. When relating an accident in his house resulting in a fall, he wrote that his daughter, who lives with him, “suggested that I draw one of my original art pictures to show me flying through the room, but my limited ability cannot do justice to the situation.”

Great Granddad also shared stories of his growing-up years. In one letter, he wrote of the farm where he grew up:

Our farm of about 50 acres included 10 acres of woodland. We had one cow, one heifer, one or two horses, four pigs, + at least a hundred chickens. My mother had to milk the cow twice a day—in the morning and in the evening. My father was a school teacher. We had coal oil lanterns for light until we got electricity, when I was 3 or 4 or 5 years old. We had a coal stove in the kitchen which met our cooking and heating needs. I will try to tell you more about my childhood in future letters.

When he was a child, they grew strawberries on that farm. Now it is a Christmas tree farm. Though no Sharman has lived there for many years, the subsequent owners kept “The Sharman Homestead” painted on the barn wall.

A commissioned painting of the barn hangs in our dinette. It is to be handed down to the oldest son, generation after generation.

Our sons also learned about their great-grandfather's day-to-day life:

On Sundays we go to church about two miles from here. It is the church in which I was baptized when a baby and confirmed when I was 15 . . . About one day a week we visit friends and go to places in the Amish country; then we return to their house and play Rummeyo.

Sometimes his letters contrasted his childhood with theirs:

You mentioned that you went skiing at Black Canyon. When I was a boy I had skis which had straps to hold your feet onto the skis. Sometimes I fell painfully. Today you have better ways to hold the feet.

There’s his dry humor again.

My sons’ relationships (and joke exchanges) with older generations make me happy. Letter-writing day makes me happy. Growing older makes me happy. And, according to my son’s birthday cards, the older I get, the happier I am.