Returned Letters


As often happened at the end of a visit with my grandmother in NH, she would say, “Oh, I have something for you to take home.” Today’s visit was no different. Sometimes it was small trinkets, books, or other items that she found in her small condo that made her think of me. Often it was items she found when she was cleaning out and wanted me to have. Sometimes the items had sentimental value and other times not so much.


But this time she gave me something I hadn’t expected: all the letters I had written to her during my various trips abroad in high school and college. I looked towards the long wooden bench by the door where such items that were ready to be given away were kept, along with an old soccer ball for when my nieces or nephew or younger cousins came to visit and a hat for wearing outside on sunny days. My grandmother reached down to pick up the letters all wrapped in a rubber band and then turned back to give them to me. I recognized the light blue Airmail letter template that I used right away.


“Here are all the letters you wrote to me over the years from your trips abroad. I was cleaning things out and wanted you to have them, “ she explained. I thanked her and took them, not quite sure how to respond, said goodbye and headed on out to my car. With a wave and a honk, I pulled out of her driveway.


As I began my drive home, I began processing the visit, as I often did, and my initial thoughts/feelings went to being hurt that she didn’t want my letters anymore. Why would she give these letters that I had worked so hard on back to me? Was I not important enough to keep them? Although I understood the practicality of what she was doing, it was not something anyone else had ever done before. Tears came to my eyes as my emotions and insecurities overtook any rational thoughts of the practicalness of her actions.


My grandmother is an amazing woman whom I love and I know am loved by her. I have nothing but gratitude for the support she and my grandfather have given me over the years. But, if I’m being completely honest, I have never felt completely comfortable in her presence. Having grown up on western PA, we only saw her and my grandfather from New England, about once a year. She is very practical and not the most expressive person with her emotions. Maybe it is her strong New England blood or her elderly age which allows her a certain freedom in not hesitating to offer her opinion. Her tall, thin graceful figure always made me, with my wild curly hair and curvy physique, feel out of place. I suppose it also has to do with personality too. My dreamy and overly positive attitude sometimes didn’t match with her practical, sensible manner. I have gotten closer to her as adult and understand it is most likely my own insecurities that placed a shadow over my relationship with her. But my younger and more insecure self who sought approval from her, felt hurt and rejected when she returned the letters.


As time passed and I started to read over the letters later, I came to realize that while I had the letters she and others had written back to me on these adventures, sometimes my perspective was lost in not remembering what I had originally written. But now that she had returned my words to me, I was able to remember more of what I had been going through in those experiences. It was a gift no one else had have given me before. She gifted me with my words. Words that most definitely wouldn’t be as meaningful to anyone else, even herself.


Over the years, letters have played a powerful role in my life. Having grown up at a summer camp, sorting the letters to give out to campers and receiving them myself brought tremendous joy and satisfaction. Letters from a former babysitter during her year abroad as an exchange student inspired me to later do the same after I graduated from high school. During my trips abroad in high school and college, before the days of social media and popularity of email, I regularly wrote letters to my family and friends. Writing letters was a wonderful way to keep my family and friends updated on my experiences and adventures as well as stay connected to what was happening at home. And there is nothing quite like the feeling of excitement and anticipation around seeing a new personal letter in the mailbox!


More recently, I have started occasionally writing letters to my nieces and nephew and other children of close friends. My hope is that they are able to experience the joy that a real, tangile letter filled with love from a loved one can bring, we can keep our connection strong,

and they are encouraged to practice their writing skills (always a teacher!) when they write back to me.


I try to save the ones that are meaningful with the intention to return the letters to them when they are older. So I can pass on my grandmother's tradition of the gift of words and spreading love through returned letters.




This essay was written thanks to a monthly theme from Illuminate, a writing community from The Kindred Voice.


Read more essays, poems, and letter on Writing Letters by other Illuminate members :



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To the Man Who'll Carve My Headstone by Liz Russell

An Open Letter to People of Color by Amy Clark

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The Lost Art of Letter Writing by Amy Rich

A Letter to You by Mala Kennedy

When I Remember This Summer by Ashleigh Bowling



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