I love February 14. In the third grade book of days, it is the high holy day of love and friendship. With a flurry of red paper, pink paper, white doilies and ribbon, each child is acknowledged as friend and no one is left out. I love the tight economy of rhyme, “Be mine, Valentine!” Or tighter still –the terse unrhymed verse of candy hearts: Cool Cat. Bear Hug. Top Dog. The only broken hearts are heart shaped sugar cookies with pale pink frosting– and even those are delicious.
I love the perennial promise in the question: “Won’t you be my Valentine?” And I love that on February 14, the the third grader’s answer is yes. Yes, I like you. Yes, I will be your friend. Yes, I will be your Valentine.
I love the envelopes. We take mail as it comes, whether hurled weightlessly through cyberspace as email or passed as a note by a friend–but Valentine’s Day is a reminder of how we like it best: in an envelope.
I love notes. I remember my father saying to me once that there is no greater social skill than the right note at the right time. He was a jazz-playing-diplomat playing the piano when he said it. I laughed at the pun, but I’ve never forgotten it. On my short list of regrets are notes unwritten—each a missed opportunity
I learned to write letters by reading letters. My sister and I would pull the worn blue-bound 1922 edition of Emily Post off my grandmother’s shelf. We delighted in the samples she presents: letters of congratulations to the Upstarts on their latest venture, or letters of introduction to the Newcomers in Strangetown, or the bread and butter letters of Constance Style or Grace Smalltalk. We didn’t know that we were learning to write letters. We didn’t know that we learning about “voice” in writing.
Young writers are mystified by voice. Through letter writing, we learn one of the secrets of voice: voice is tied to audience. This week, as we learn to write letters, we will learn about voice. How would a note from Lady Macbeth to Macbeth sound different than Helena to Hermia…or Ferdinand to Miranda?
We will begin by reading lots of letters. We will write letters and read letters– some real and some make believe. We’ll learn to write the right note at the right time. We’ll learn to write letters– Sincerely. Truly. Always. And With love.
Letter writing… a lost artform to many, but not lost to the children in Room 204, thank goodness. I too love letters and excitedly read each envelope that I retrieve from my mailbox daily. Unfortunately, most are not what I have in mind, but I have letters and cards that are saved from the years of corespondence between my mother and her family who moved to California in the 1950s and 60s. My mother’s sister and her husband were world travelers and sent letters from all of their ports of call. When my parents died and I had to clean the house; to my amazement, in all the junk they left in the basement, I found congratulatory cards on the new baby – me! And as I was expecting my baby at 45! It was as good as finding gold or stocks. I put all of these letters and cards in my mother’s monogramed leather suitcases and have them stored for that summer when I complile them and pass them on to my children. Letters, envelopes, stamps, the written word – all treasures.
“hurl weightlessly through cyberspace” is the line of all time. I cannot wait to steal it. After all, what are sisters for? Signed, Jane Copycat
What a great thing to teach letter writing during Valentine’s Day week. I agree with your Dad and, though I didn’t say it so eloquently, have always told my children that remembering to express gratitude is an extremely important professional skill, not just a social one.
I love letters, and am now the keeper of John’s grandmother’s trove of letters. She saved every letter that she received from important people in her life, and those that she inherited from her parents and Ken’s parents. What a treasure! In that box is the entire history of Ken and Ellen’s relationship and more. And, thanks to you, I hope to have many more letters from my own children to add to the treasure box!
Your dad sounds fascinating. Great post.