Norah Ephron wrote the screenplay for You’ve Got Mail in 1998. Starring Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan, the film features two business rivals who can’t stand each other in real life but begin falling in love via online mail boxes.
Cliff Writes Letters to Me
Internet messaging was unheard of in the sixties of course. No one had cellphones either. Phone calls were very expensive for courtship on a teacher’s salary or college stipend. So our only options for staying in touch were letters written in cursive handwriting or sometimes typed.
The photos of love letters below have survived a garage flood in our first house in Sans Souci, storage on shelves in our Killarney house, “seasoning” in soaring and sinking temperatures in a work van, and now at rest in our art studio on Spindletree Way awaiting digital scans. Some of the stamps have become un-glued. A few of the letters are unreadable because of water damage. Still . . .
The letters have remained virtually untouched for fifty-two years. I’m curious about what lies within.
So, stay tuned . . .
* * *
After we married, my young husband wrote a poem to my Grandma Longenecker, whom he “adopted” as his own. The verse was written on tissue-like onionskin, lighter than 10# paper and cheaper to mail because it may have been sent via “air” mail instead of by US Postal Service truck. The envelope is dated December 26, 1967, nearly five months after our early August wedding. We spent Christmas with the Longeneckers that year, beginning the tradition of our biannual trips from Florida to the Pennsylvania home place, summer and winter.
I discovered this letter in Grandma’s attic in May 2017. She kept every piece of mail from family, a fact both maddening and endearing. Maddening because we had to sift through boxes filled with piles of paper – but also endearing because we found treasures to cherish.
Here is the evidence:
Cliff writes a Letter to Grandma Fannie (His own Grandma lived farther away in Washington state.)
Everyone needs a Grandma,
How would this poor world survive?
Or how would the milkin’ get done
And the vit’als cooked before the settin’ sun?
Why everyone needs a Grandma.
Everyone needs a Grandma.
Who would start the Christmas Feast
And work and bake with quick-rising yeast?
Or who would darn a hundred socks
And clean out cupboards on a box?
Why, didn’t you know? Everyone needs a Grandma.
Everyone needs a Grandma.
Who would clean out the garbage pails?
Better watch out! She’s tough as nails.
And who would watch your p’s and q’s
And get you out of all your stews?
Why, I think everyone needs a Grandma.
Everyone needs a Grandma.
Who would sit in a rocking chair
And read stories beside the fire’s glare?
And who would chase with sweet, chubby fingers
That one last tear that too long lingers?
Why, everyone needs a Grandma – even if she’s not your own!
Cliff, December 26, 1967
Do you have a precious letter (or two) you have held on to?
How have you stored them?
Your story fits here!
Aw… I love Cliff’s letter to Grandma Fannie. I knew he was a keeper! My special letters are stored in my fireproof box. Enjoy the holidays, Marian!❤️
We need a good reminder to store our letters in our safe, but there is no room. Right now they are in a box waiting to be scanned. A fireproof box is the smart solution of course.
You are such an early bird and always on the ball. Thanks for the tip ~ and the good wishes!
I chuckled when I saw the picture of all those letters. We have a Kissy Doll box (yes, I didn’t make that up) full of our own two-year-long letter courtship. My daughter found them when she was and early teenager and read some of them. Her verdict, “Boring!”
Oh my goodness, Shirley. Kissy Dolls, which I’ve not heard of before, sound vintage. From what I know about your theatrical mom, she must have given you one.
Kate’s verdict on your love letters sounds like our grandchildren’s reaction this week. We are staying at their house while their parents are on vacation. I brought with me the journal of my first meeting Cliff and read the December 18, 1965 entry. They just sat there poker-faced. Oh, well . . . !
What a wonderful tribute to all Grandmothers. I miss mine, especially at holiday time.
I know the feeling, Lynn. My condolences to you.
This is the first Christmas without any elder relatives. I still have the photo of Aunt Ruthie dressed in red in front of the Christmas trees at Landis Homes last year. Precious memories . . . how they linger. Blessings to you and your family this season!
Good morning, Marian. What a sweet post! I’m sorry I haven’t kept letters. I do wish I had kept the letters my grandfather wrote me when I was in college.
That’s a bittersweet thought. I believe I’ve seen a photo of your grandfather. Maybe now would be a good time to record some of your mother’s stories.
Thanks for appearing here so soon after your happy celebration of Hanukkah, Merril – always appreciated.
Mom and Dad have a stack of love letters that have remained mysterious and unopened for years. I want to read them very soon.
I see another book materializing, but first a blog post perhaps.
Oh, the possibilities: Mom and Dad reading the letters on a special occasion; giving you permission to snoop (ha!), discovering more letters . . . Ah!
When I saw your title, I thought, oh, what a cute play on “Cliff Notes”. Your hubby comes in handy so many ways, and I guess I didn’t know poetry was among his many gifts. This is so precious for your grandmother. What a find!
I have a few old letters–the ones I sent home from Spain for instance. They are only in a file cabinet.
Very, very clever, Melodie. I hadn’t thought of “Cliff Notes” when I wrote this, but if another letter appears, I’ll work that pun into a new title.
You may surprise yourself about the uses of those letters from Spain, especially when you have more time to reflect – perhaps after your retire. Have a wonderful season with your family!
I’ve kept all the emails my fiancé has sent me. His handwriting is atrocious [his admission!].
Two weeks ago while packing to evacuate for the Thomas Fire here in California, letters from my deceased parents made the cut.
Our grandparents all passed before we were born, so I never had the pleasure of a grandma-by-birth. That didn’t stop me from wondering as a little girl if I could find someone to adopt as my own special grandma. Everyone should have the chance at an elder in their corner!
Your comment made me gasp, Ginger. How scary to have to evacuate because of a fire. I hope you have been able to return with your home intact. The letters you saved are precious because they are irreplaceable.
I agree, “everyone should have the chance at an elder in their corner.” I wish you and your family all the best this holiday season.
How romantic of you to keep all those letters for such a long time! We had a few boxes containing letters, cards and drawings from and to each other and other relations over the last 25 years, but had to part with a lot of it when we sold house this summer. I bet you are going to have a good laugh re-reading them all!
I love your husband’s letter to your Gran! How sweet is that?
Yes, I understand, you can’t keep them all. My sisters and I had to make some hard decisions about keeping and throwing out. Fortunately letters are usually skinny and don’t take up much space.
I’ll share you comment about my husband’s letter to Grandma. We both forgot he even wrote it until it saw the light of day in our sorting this spring. Safe and happy travels to you. I notice from Facebook you are seeing some lovely holiday sights this December.
Awww! I am touched you are going to share my comment with Cliff and Grandma. Thank you. ❤
“Everyone needs a Grandma. Even if she’s not your own.” Beautiful sentiment. I had a very special relationship with my grandmother. She was my only grandparent and I was her only grandchild. So, that’s my model. Not helpful when I must share my five with ten or so others. (a bunch of greats are in the picture still too). Please ask Cliff to write a poem for those of us who must share. It’s hard.
Now, back to your question. Yes. I keep all my grandhildren’s and sons’ letters in one particular drawer. And, as you know I have that “suitcase” of my grandmother’s that I’m going through now. She too kept my letters. I seem to have begun at the end of her life and am working backward. (I’m now in college; hoping to be a kid again soon). I also found that on a few of them, coffee had been spilled, and a hand tatted handkerchief was used to mop it up. Probably her beloved Nescafé.
Have a glorious Christmas of peace and goodwill.
See you next year.
I hear the sadness in the having to share, Janet. Our children’s spouses go in different directions for Christmas and one family sometimes for Thanksgiving. I’m lucky to have them for Christmas brunch. In such families, the children end up getting more presents but people in the older generation do get the short end of the stick sometimes. 🙁
Your grandma was a special person; you have treasures in that suitcase, believe me. I have to ask “Was the hand-tatted handkerchief inside or out of the book?” I once read a book that the owner admitted to spilling brandy on – The Bridges of Madison County! The spots smelled like butterscotch, I thought. Hugs to you and your family this Christmas.
I’ve written poems like these for my oma (maternal grandma) as well, while she was alive and for her funeral. Until her passing, earlier this year, I wrote hand-written letters and postcards to her from all over the world. She kept all of them as well, together with my tons of travel reports, which my mom printed out for her from emails. I’m curious about those love letters! 🙂
What a thoughtful grand-daughter – to write poetry, cards, and letters from around the world. Obviously, you were her pride and joy. Now you know if the pixels and electrons in digital communication disappear you have the originals – ha! Enjoy this special season, Liesbet, and thank you.
Oh, and I still have all the letters, birthday cards and postcards I ever received. They are “stored” in three shoe boxes at my parents’ place. I’ll have to figure out what to do with them when they move next year… 🙁
You are definitely an historian, Liesbet. Now you’ll have to curate too!
I do have a treasured letter. It was written to me by my future mother-in-law upon my engagement to Bob. Her welcome to the family far surpassed my wildest dreams as we would not meet face-to-face for some three years or so. We lived in TN at the time, and she lived in WA. In her letter, she even welcomed my 10-year old son to the family. Her words of welcome were filled with love, grace, and warmth, qualities I hadn’t known from my own mother. It was welcomed then with tears and reciprocal love, and today I count it among my richest treasures.
Thanks for sharing the story of your letters, Marian.
You are welcome, Sherrey. God found a marvelous way to make up for the lack you experienced as a child. Apparently your mother-in-law passed on those loving qualities to your husband Bob too. I thinking now of that writing studio, one recent labor of love.
Have a merry Christmas and a bountiful new year.
I spent days sifting through the cards and letters my mom kept from friends, kids and grandkids. I made a bundle for each of her grandchildren and sent the letters to them so they could read them and refresh their memories. My husband and I had a long distance letter relationship for almost two years (he was in Congo as a single man first) and I have kept all those letters, as well as all the letters I wrote home during almost 20 years of living in Africa. I am a bit overwhelmed when I think about going through them in order to write a memoir!
Elfrieda, I feel weary just thinking about your dilemma. Possibly you have material for not just one but two books.
I admire your curating cards and letters, and then sending bundles to the grandchildren. What a rich legacy they have. Perhaps you can identify one or two of the younger generation that will carry the torch. Have a happy and holy Christmas, my friend.
Hubby and I were long-distance sweethearts for almost a year, and I have a box of our letters tucked away. I keep meaning to sift through them (there may be incriminating evidence contained therein). 🙂 There might even be a letter or two from former beaus too! lol Merry Christmas Marian – happy reading (and falling deeper in love with Cliff)! 😉
Probably it will be easy to toss those letters from old beaus – after you read them first and thank God you didn’t get stuck with HIM – ha!
Go ahead and read those pre-husband letters. You may find something rich for Valentine’s Day if not earlier. Cliff and I wrote letters for 1 1/2 years before we married. Once we sat down and figured we had face to face contact (Ha!) for less than a month over that span of time before the wedding, a good way to get to know one another in non-physical ways, don’t ya think! 😉
What a lovely post and a way to engage your readers, Marian. Indeed, I saved dozens of birthday and anniversary cards from my parents, from my sons when they were little boys … and, of course, from John. Thanks to those cards and letters, John’s words “speak” in my memoirs and in “A Portrait of Love and Honor,” as I either quoted them or referenced them in the books. John also wrote a letter to each of our sons which I gave to them after he died. The final letter he wrote to me remains in my safe deposit box and occasionally I will take it out and read it … and, again, he is with me.
I should add that women in my family, including my grandmother, Freda Gutsche, were great preservers of letters, Christmas and Valentine cards, along with diaries and journals itemizing, just as an example, how much it cost to have a pair of shoes re-soled. I believe I owe my sentimental streak to them, as well as my interest in preserving memories and life’s little (and big) moments in cards and letters. As writers, how can we not be moved by this legacy of our loved ones? Great post! Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! … until 2018 ….
You are a memoirist and novelist, but also an historian, keeping as you do records of fact and feeling. One reason A Portrait of Love and Honor resonates so well with readers, I think, is that you took advantage of primary sources like letters. Being deeply in love with the main character doesn’t hurt either. I love that you and your sons have a legacy of letters. What a guy!
Here’s to a wonderful heritage and a happy new year, Susan!
I still have letters from my husband when we were courting – he spent a year in the UK for his medical fellowship. And letters from my parents … and from my sons when they were at boarding school in their high school years. And from friends when they travelling or living abroad – o golly a whole big drawer full!
Cliff’s letter seeing the light of day (on this post) 50 years on … it’s a wonderful letter to Grandma, and captures the essence of wonderful Grandma’s so beautifully! Thanks for sharing it Marian.
A blessed and merry Christmas to you and family.
I’m not surprised that you have a stash of letters. O golly! The fun you’ll have re-reading the wonderful stuff in that big drawer full. Thank you for adding to the conversation here – and a blessed Christmas to you too, Susan.
Ah, that address—2176 Lincoln Highway East—takes me back to our LMS days!! Many memories to treasure. I have boxes of letters too—to hold onto, to digitize, to throw away? That is the question!
Yes, we do have a legacy – and a quandary with so many letters. And in our case a history together beginning with college days and then LMS. May you have a blessed Christmas and happy new year with your family. Thanks for adding to the conversation here, Verna.
HAPPY NEW YEAR, MARIAN AND FAMILY! SAVED LETTERS OFFER SUCH A WONDERFUL HISTORY OF FAMILY AND RELATIONSHIPS. THEY ARE TIME CAPSULES OF OUR HISTORY. I SAVED EVERY LETTER A FAVORITE AUNT WROTE TO ME AT MH, AND ALL MY PARENT’S LETTERS BUT SINCE I HAVE NO ONE TO PASS THEM ON TO I RECENTLY DESTROYED ALL BUT THE FEW FAVORITES. YOU ARE SO LUCKY TO HAVE KIN TO PASS YOURS ON TO. CHEERS, CONRAD
I’m glad you’ve saved a few favorites from your stash, Jack. You are right. I know I am fortunate to have grandkids to pass these artifacts on to, and I don’t take that for granted. But right now they seem to be on a different wave length, if you get my drift.
Merry Christmas and a Happy 2018 to you, Conrad. I’m so happy you pop in quite often to comment here, another link to the past.
Hi Marian. In case you’re wondering why my comment is in reply to your previous comment is because there was no comment box coming up after it says “I’d love to hear your thoughts”. Strange WP shenanigans I guess. But I just wanted to say how romantic that is that you kept all your letters from your husband. Sadly, I have none to fall back on but plenty of my own writings. 🙂
You are right, it is romantic. My husband is super sentimental, but then again he is an artist – ha!
Your recent memoir documents your own special love story. Any day now your book will appear in my mailbox. I know I could get it online instantly, but I’m old school enough to like the feel of physical turning pages.
You deserve a little break soon. Best wishes as you end up a very productive year. 🙂
Aw thanks so much Marian. Yes, it seems most artists are sensitive souls. 🙂 And I’m thrilled you’ll be reading my book. Just know, when you find that bad booboo, you can chuckle because the newer version won’t have it. 🙂 Merry Christmas my friend to you and yours. <3
I find boo boos in authors published by Madison Avenue publishers. When I see the error I gently put a pencil mark by it to show them I’ve noticed. This mistake in your book seems gargantuan now, but trust me, the content outshines the teeny tiny error. Besides, prostate/prostrate, they all fit with marriage! HaHaHaHaHa
Lollllllllllllllll, good one Marian! Thanks for that! 🙂
MERRY CHRISTMAS TO ALL OF YOU!
I love the poem Cliff wrote to your grandmother. I agree, everyone needs a grandmother! It’s also great that the letters have survived, a testament to your enduring marriage! I found the letters between my mom and dad when they were “courting” in the late 1940s. I gave them to my daughter to keep. She treasures them. I hope you share a little bit of what’s in those letters. <3
You said, “I hope you share a little bit of what’s in those letters.” Well, first we’ll have to read them – ha! A few days ago on December 18 I read my journal entry from 1965 when I first met Cliff. One of the comments about him was “Easy come . . . easy go!” After 52 years of knowing each other, my first impression seems ludicrous now.
I’m glad your daughter treasures her grandparents’ love letters. It seems having a generation in between heightens the interest. Thanks for adding to the conversation here, Darlene!
That is the sweetest thing . I can tell from photos of your husband he’s a sensitive soul …I’m a sucker for them …I married one .
I have a birthday card from my Dad , when for a brief time , he had a water infection . We had no idea at the time that a water infection can disturb the mind . My dad always appeared quite hard in a way although we all knew it was only surface and yet the card he wrote had so much affection and love in the words . I kept that card because I believe the water infection just stripped off the guards he held close to him for protection .
Lucky you – married to a sucker for sentimentality. I know he must appreciate your endearing ways. And daughter of a loving father too, though he expressed it in a different way. I like how you describe his condition and your awareness of how it affected him: “I kept that card because I believe the water infection just stripped off the guards he held close to him for protection.”
Merry Christmas, Cherry, and all the best in the new year! xox
What treasures—the letters and, especially, the letter-writer. I have a stack of love letters written by my dad to my mom in the months leading up to their wedding. She was still living with her mom in the tiny house in the village where she grew up; Dad was traveling back and forth by train between two cities, both of which they would eventually make their home in. The letters provide tender glimpses into their courtship and new married life, as well as a look back at what life was like in the late 1940s. I never thought about digitizing them—excellent idea, Marian.
Tender is a word that stands out to me in your comment, Linda. In a world that has grown more coarse, less civil, these polite (and probably passionate) exchanges are treasures. I’m glad this post gave you another idea about preserving precious documents.
I don’t know how you do it, posting each day. I guess the answer is this: You’ve built it into your schedule daily, first thing. All the best to you in the year ahead as you continue to record your world visually and verbally.
Wow–that’s a very sweet poem! It almost seems like a song; did he set it to music? I understand the letter conundrum; I’m currently in the process of going through a big box of letters my grandma saved. They’re mostly from World War II, but (I suppose due to wartime censorship) are mostly surprisingly uninformative. You’re right about finding occasional treasures, though! I wish you the best in your letter-sorting endeavor. I hope you and your family have a wonderful Christmas and an even better New Year!
Thank you, Rebecca. I’ll make sure Cliff reads these comments. No, he didn’t set it to music though the repeated refrain would lend itself to lyrics.
I wish the same for you, Sage, and hubby too: a very Merry Christmas and a wonderful 2018!
How lovely to have those letters as treasured memories!
Yes, indeed, Fiona! Thanks for stopping by today. 🙂
Just lovely, Marian. As you’re known for most of your life, that Cliff is a keeper.
My most precious letters are from my teacher Marion Woodman and from my husband Vic–and neither will write more. Vic’s note that I found hidden in my wallet the night before my TEDx talk (and 6 years after his death) was tucked back in my wallet where I carry it and read it when I need to remember that love. I made a digital copy. Marion’s letters need to be scanned. It seems essential to do that soon after reading your blog. Some are on my altar and most are in a file cabinet. My mother saved every letter I wrote her in college. I still haven’t gone through all of them because they stir up resentment. But, as we know, that can be the fuel for a good story. Maybe it won’t be long before I tackle those letters written by a lonely and depressed girl to her mother who had moved to Europe and didn’t want to hear about her daughter’s struggles.
New Year’s Blessings to you and Prayers for Peace, Love, and Kindness.
Oh, Elaine, I’m glad you experienced true, unconditional love from Vic. His note hidden in your wallet is most precious, the note itself and the timing.
It may appear that my life has been silky smooth. But you may find my memoir surprising – or, maybe not, since you have the gift of intuition. And as you say, struggles can be the fuel for a good story.
Onward now to 2018. May it hold many pleasant surprises for both of us!
For thousands of years, the emotion of the letter and the human being is inseparable. The feeling of writing a letter is that you don’t care whether the letter is sent to him or not, as long as you write it down and the other person has heard it.
Thank you, Karen. The written letter doesn’t depend on digital pixels to hold it together. Emotion flowing through the human hand does that beautifully. Good to hear from you. Do visit again!