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Jewish World Review Feb. 28, 2002 / 16 Adar 5762

Dayle A. Shockley

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Of mouse pads and men -- IN a drawer somewhere is a hand-written letter from my first-grade teacher, thanking me for the Christmas gift I gave her. It was the first personal letter that I can remember receiving, and I have been charmed by them ever since.

In our electronically-driven world, letter-writing seems to be a dying art. I wish it were not so, as there is nothing quite so uplifting as going to the mailbox and finding a letter written just for you. In the words of Voltaire: "Those who are absent, by its means become present: correspondence is the consolation of life."

I couldn't agree more. Receiving a personal letter remains one of life's little pleasures.

But the pleasure need not be limited to the recipient. A certain gratification comes in the writing of a letter. I savor that moment of stillness whenever I pull out a monogrammed notecard or a pretty sheet of stationery and settle down to compose my thoughts. I enjoy crafting sentences that match my mood, sometimes revealing more than I planned. I love the sound and feel of putting pen to paper. There is something calming about the very motion of writing.

Perhaps the most popular form of letter is the love letter. Love letters have a way of warming the heart, regardless of how long ago they were written.

One cold evening, I retreated to the bedroom to indulge in my nightly reading. Books, magazines and newspapers were there for the choosing. Instead, I opened the velvet-lined redwood trunk that holds cards and letters written to me-before and since our marriage-by my incredibly romantic husband.

I drew out a small bundle and crawled into bed. As a winter moon pressed its light against the window, I snuggled under a layer of quilts, anxious to see what words from the past awaited me.

Here was one from 1980-two months before our wedding:

"My dearest Dayle,

You have brought such joy to me, a happiness that I can't put into words. You are a dream come true! Every time we talk on the phone or see each other, my love for you grows stronger. I can't wait for you to be my wife..."

Time stopped as I recalled what it was like to be young again, and to be somebody's "dream come true." It felt good, holding this faded, but tangible, declaration of love in my hands.

My husband and I did most of our courting by mail. There were miles of roads between us, and the Internet had not been created. Writing schmaltzy letters kept the flames of our love burning. Hardly a day went by that I didn't find a letter or a card from my beau. And when the mailbox held nothing for me, the day seemed quite eternal.

I can't imagine what it would be like, being in love without sending and receiving sappy letters and sentimental notes through the mail. There is no substitute for opening a letter from your beloved and finding a rose tucked between the folds, or holding an envelope to your face and discovering the slightest scent of the one you love.

Probably the best love letters aren't written by the young, but by those who have weathered the seasons of a relationship: spring's fresh awakenings; summer's sizzling nights; autumn's unbearable losses; the sting of winter's chill. Those whose devotion has stood the test of time seem to write with an added depth.

Not long ago, I found this note from my husband:

"My sweet wife, in the good times and in the bad, you are the one who makes it all worthwhile. I don't know what I would do without you."

Perhaps the current generation of love birds finds sending letters through cyberspace acceptable-even appealing. But I hope that at some point in their relationship they will buy pretty paper and a comfortable pen, then find a quiet corner where they can set in ink the magnitude of their love for each other.

It may sound corny or mushy or a trifle silly, but it is a gift that will bring a smile to the lips of their sweetheart, for many years to come.

JWR contributing columnist Dayle Allen Shockley is a Texas-based author. To comment on this column, please click here.

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© 2002, Dayle Allen Shockley