Truly Yours: A Letter Writer Who Perseveres

I happen to be a man of letters.

I don’t mean in an academic sense but someone who still sits behind a keyboard and types letters to correspondents. No e-mails for them. Much too impersonal.

And get this. They write me back. As much context as I’m apt to send, I get in return. I have a collection of letters bulging out of my desk drawers or piled in stacks wherever space permits. To rid the file would be an injustice to memorabilia.

There are letters from friends and letters from enemies, love letters from my wife (which I’ve kept since my military days), and letters from acquaintances all over eternity.

I would still continue writing them longhand with a fountain pen like I did for decades but I’ll give myself that concession. Wonder how many writers still use a fountain pen?

Some of my letters represent the poison pen variety, but I keep them as evidence that bad things do happen occasionally.

Truth is, I have saved everything from postcards to long dissertations.

My fixation for letters began in grammar school when my English teacher came up with a novel approach. In an effort to have us writing more effectively, she suggested we get pen pals. She presented a list from all over the world.

“Take your pick,” she said. “It doesn’t matter who you write to. One letter is as good as another.”

Names gushed forth from places like Germany, Russia, Norway, Spain, and Italy. Since I was Armenian, on came a pen pal from my ancestral homeland.

In the beginning, we exchanged letters in English. As my Armenian grew more proficient through schooling, letters were exchanged in my native language.

I can’t begin to tell you what a breakthrough this was in my life. Since then, I have corresponded with up to eight different individuals from other countries and continents.

Some people have told me letter-writing has become a lost art. People don’t sit down and transmit their feelings like they used to. Another thing I do is reach for the telephone and hear an actual voice. We’ve become much too automated.

In this age of stress, I find a letter very therapeutic and tend to write things I would never dare to say. A pal in Newport, R.I., is also a journalist and columnist. We’re caught exchanging war stories and columns about our profession, and tend to write like we speak.

We could call, even visit, but it wouldn’t be the same. I’ve saved all his letters and he’s done the same. We met 15 years ago at a newspaper convention in Newport, exchanged addresses, and average one letter a month.

I’ve lived through his trials and he’s commiserated with my tribulations. Leonard is one of the oldest active columnists in the country so his well never runs dry. Often, I leave his letter on the table, only to find my wife catching up on his episodes.

I once corresponded with a fellow from Egypt for 24 years without ever laying eyes on him. Vrej ultimately moved to Montreal before we connected and it was like greeting a long lost brother.

“What,” you may ask, “is there to write about?”

A serviceman will say, “Anything.”

I remember my tour of duty and how a letter from home made my day. I was in charge of mail call. There were the packages of goodies we’d all share. There were also the heartaches and a

“Dear John” letter or two. I remember a soldier who never got a letter until I wrote him one myself with a fictitious name.

I’ve written about everything from my funky parakeet to my moody children in their various stages of life. There were letters about lost loves and romances found. I should use that word in the singular tense, otherwise the wife might take exception.

Now that we’ve been married for 47 years, I read her mail and she reads mine. We kind of share each other’s mail, for better or worse. It’s my guess that there are others out there who wouldn’t dream of opening another’s mail, unless it was marked “personal” and reeked with perfume.

I recall once seeing my daughter on the floor with one of these intimacies in hand, giggling up a storm. She found a love letter in one of the bedroom drawers and couldn’t resist the urge. Anything private in our home never remained that way with curious children at hand.

“Some day when you grow older and meet a guy, you may want to write letters,” I suggested.

“What if he lives down the street?”

“Then you can deliver it yourself,” I said.

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Tom Vartabedian

Tom Vartabedian is a retired journalist with the Haverhill Gazette, where he spent 40 years as an award-winning writer and photographer. He has volunteered his services for the past 46 years as a columnist and correspondent with the Armenian Weekly, where his pet project was the publication of a special issue of the AYF Olympics each September.
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3 Comments

  1. You are not alone!  There are lots of us letter writers out there.  I’ve even started a Facebook fanpage called “Save the U.S. Postal Service by Writing More Letters.”  Together we can make a difference!

  2. This was such a heartwarming article.. I got teary eyed… because I remembered how I used to write letters to my friends in Armenia when my family moved to US almost 20 years ago.. It was the way to go if you wated to keep in touch with you loved ones.. the feeling of getting something personal like a handwritten letter from someone you adore was unexplainable.. it was like a breath of fresh summer day, like a surprise party you never expected, like a sunshine.. I use to inpatiently wait for the mail to come to see if I had a letter…

    but that stopped when skype and every other technological advancement emerged.. however, i truly agree that letter writing should never die… it connects us in a way no technology can ever do…

    Rachel- good for you for organizing something like that.. I know our Postal Services are thinking to close down alot of the offices and consolidate as much as possible”.. that will be devastating for alot of postal workers… and also those of us who still wants to receive and write a handwritten letter from time to time.. 

    Gayane   

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