In reading family history stories from both my husband’s side as well as mine I have noticed that many times the details of the women’s lives are missing. The men wrote their own autobiographies, mentioned things that may have happened to the women in their lives, but the women’s perspectives are glaringly missing. There are a few instances where we do have a great-grandmother’s account of what occurred or even a copy of a letter in her own writing. Those are oh-so-precious. And real!
I’ve often wondered why their stories are missing. I think part of it is they wrote letters. Those letters were sent to other people and while they might be floating around hidden in someone’s attic they are still gone. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. They kept track of their lives and shared it with others. It was just in a less permanent way than keeping a journal. Wouldn’t it be glorious to find a stack of letters written by your grandmother or great-mother?
My own grandmother saved letters she received from everyone. Several years ago she gifted me with a binder containing all the letters I had written to her as a child. There were pictures I had drawn, funny stories I shared, and a lot of bragging about things I had accomplished. It has been a treasure to pull that binder out every now and then and remember what I was like as a child and the experiences I had.
Recently I came across an experience shared by Elder Henry B. Eyring. It happened when he was teaching a class at Ricks College back in the 1970s. He was trying to impress upon the class the importance of learning to write well.
“I was teaching from section 25 of the Doctrine and Covenants. In that section Emma Smith is told that she should give her time to “writing, and to learning much” (verse 8). About three rows back sat a blonde girl whose brow wrinkled as I urged the class to be diligent in developing writing skills. She raised her hand and said, “That doesn’t seem reasonable to me. All I’ll ever write are letters to my children.” That brought laughter all around the class. Just looking at her I could imagine a full quiver of children around her, and I could even see the letters she would write. Maybe writing powerfully wouldn’t matter to her.
“Then a young man stood up near the back. He had said little during the term; I’m not sure he had ever spoken before. He was older than the other students, and he was shy. He asked if he could speak. He told in a quiet voice of having been a soldier in Vietnam. One day, in what he thought would be a lull, he had left his rifle and walked across his fortified compound to mail call. Just as he got a letter in his hand, he heard a bugle blowing and shouts and mortar and rifle fire coming ahead of the swarming enemy. He fought his way back to his rifle, using his hands as weapons. With the men who survived, he drove the enemy out. Then he sat down among the living, and some of the dead, and he opened his letter. It was from his mother. She wrote that she’d had a spiritual experience that assured her that he would live to come home if he were righteous. In my class, the boy said quietly, “That letter was scripture to me. I kept it.” And he sat down.
“You may have a child someday, perhaps a son. Can you see his face? Can you see him somewhere, sometime, in mortal danger? Can you feel the fear in his heart? Does it touch you? Would you like to give freely? What sacrifice will it take to write the letter your heart will want to send? Start the practice this afternoon. Go back to your room and write and read and rewrite that paper again and again. It won’t seem like sacrifice if you picture that boy, feel his heart, and think of the letters he’ll need someday.” (Henry B. Eyring, Gifts of Love)
I have a few that my parents wrote to me as I was growing up. They are, indeed, scripture to me. They contain words of counsel, of encouragement, of praise, of love.
I also write letters to my own children. Every year when the young women have Girls Camp in the summer the parents are asked to write a letter to each of their daughters who will attend. Hopefully those letters are treasured and kept.
Letter writing is becoming a lost art. It is unfortunate really. In writing we are able to express ourselves and say things we might be too embarrassed to say or give counsel that would otherwise be dismissed. We share a piece of ourselves. Sometime, if you haven’t done so already, take some paper and write a letter to your children. Express your love, your admiration for their accomplishments, your encouragement for the hard times they have yet to face. Those letters will be cherished pieces of paper.
And for the sake of your own family history, make a copy and keep it somewhere safe!
Do you have any letters written by your parents or grandparents? Have you written any to your children?