Friday, September 23rd, 2011

Why Not Write Your Grandparents A Letter?

Can you remember the last time you wrote someone a letter? Maybe it was a college middle-school sweetheart, or you were in elementary school and responding to your Christmas and birthday presents. It’s possible you’ve just come back from your honeymoon, and you and your partner are grinding out thank-you notes for the presents. Or maybe you’re penning letter after letter to someone you loved and lost. You probably never even sent those letters (I hope you didn’t—real life is not The Notebook).

But chances are you may not remember what it feels like to sit down with a nice desk in front of you, some loose-leaf paper, a pen and only a slight idea what you’re going to say. It feels pretty good, especially if you’ve been popping Adderall, smoking cigs and going about your daily life without any time to reflect. Writing a letter is a nice way to unwind and let the obtrusiveness of jobs, commutes and social obligations fall by the wayside. Who should you write? Well, how about your grandma or grandpa?

Your grandparents, if you’re lucky enough to have any still alive, came of age in an era when there was nothing but the telephone, the telegram and USPS conveyance. One of those modes died and another might not be around much longer. (FedEx, for the record, was invented in the early '70s.) Some of your grandparents are happily on Twitter; some are grooving on Facebook; some don't quite get texting yet. Your grandparent v. technology mileage will vary—but nearly all remember the delights of physical mail delivery in a way that people born in the '80s just can't understand. Here are some tips for writing your letter.

First thing, make sure you can still write. A lot of my friends have the penmanship of a doctor with cataracts, but with a little struggle the print letters you struggled to perfect in grade school should come back to you. Don’t even think about longhand. If you’re like me and trend towards a mash-up of cursive and print, then make sure you’re cognizant of your scribbling shortcomings (we all have them—my writing is also cramped). Don’t cop out and type it, even on a typewriter.

This is not the great American novel. Don’t overdo it. Your grandparents come from a time when people routinely read books and newspapers every day, and authors were famous regardless of their inclusion in Oprah’s Book Club. But just because their generation was more literary-minded doesn’t mean you need to write a Nick Adams vignette within your letter (although a fishing story might make your grandpa happy). Keep it simple and to the point, the main focus being your love for them.

I can’t comment for everyone’s grandparents, since they’re all different, but there is one trait they almost all share: Loving their grandchildren. That unconditional love may exist because they’re untrammeled by the vestiges of your adolescence (unless they raised you, in which case it might be more complicated). You’re their grandchild, so minor indiscretions are ignored or forgotten. No matter how many tattoos I got, or piercings, or how many times I dyed my hair growing up, my grandma always loved when I stayed with her and thought I was an angel even when the rest of the family did not.

Out of deference to this unbending love, try to focus on topics in your letter that will bring them pleasure. This is not a creative-writing exercise; the point is to let them know you’re thinking about them. Bring up the last time you were together. Focus on something you know they’ve always loved. For me it was the Miller Light that always sat next to my grandma at the dining-room table. A few years back someone ordered her a microbrew at a restaurant in the Bay Area, and she spat it out and asked the shocked waiter, “Can I get a real beer?” (I’m looking forward to Macro Brew jokes.) Sitting at your desk, grasping for memories long since misplaced, you’ll be surprised by how sweet and genuine these recollections may be. Your grandparents may have forgotten some of them too, and it will be a nice reminder for both of you.

Once you’ve successfully penned your letter, now it’s time to send it. Do you even have their address? Try to get it without calling your folks or a relative that lives nearby them. I’m assuming that for many of you this letter will be meant as a surprise (my first one was), so send it like you mean it and without the aid of others.

If you’re unfamiliar with how postage works these days, you should know that you now can purchase first-class stamps, "forever stamps," that will always be the correct postage. Declining revenues mean the cost of sending mail is rising almost as fast your subway fare. These special stamps will always work, and your grandparent will get a letter from you, and you have no idea how happy this will make them.

My only remaining grandparent is reaching the end of her life. A lot of people would be uncomfortable with this notion, but not my grandma. She’s tougher than my family, and me, and she wouldn’t want any of us to shrink from the natural cycle of life. I’d like to think these letters remind her of all that she’s given to me (and others) over the years. She’s 60-plus years older than I am, and I’ll never be able to thank her enough for all the wisdom and humor and guidance she’s passed on to me. By writing to her about joyful memories we've shared in the past, I try to give her some joy and amusement in the present. And that's what all of us want—regardless of age.

If you have a grandparent alive, send them a letter too. You won’t regret it.

Spencer Lund thinks you should write a letter to any grandparents you have left.

21 Comments / Post A Comment

johnpseudonym (#1,452)

I just mailed an actual, store-bought birthday card to my grandma yesterday. And frankly, I thought it was an accomplishment.

keisertroll (#1,117)


melis (#1,854)

@keisertroll Oh, real nice humblebrag.

keisertroll (#1,117)

@melis It was actually a reference to those On-Cor lasagna ads with the guy from Happy Days.

This is wonderful. I am fortunate to have a circle of friends who are very disciplined – and also very expressive – with thank-you notes. Hand-written correspondence is always delightful. I have written (by hand) three real letters this year – one to my 11th grade English teacher a few days before her passing, two to the wonderful people who hired me on the occasion of my resigning – and I think the rewards are as great for the writer as for the recipient.

melis (#1,854)

@Charismatic Megafauna You sent it a few days before her passing? Was it a single white card with a black spot on the side?

deepomega (#1,720)

@melis On a page torn from a bible.

She was duly forewarned to copy and forward it to 9 friends. I can't be blamed for what happened next.

grandpa27 (#804)

On the receiving end we get darn few,

deepomega (#1,720)

Alternative: Write ME a letter! I promise to respond with a hand-crafted tweet.

lovelettersinhell (#13,711)

:-( I was just thinking about how much I miss my awesome maternal grandma, who died five years ago, and now you write this??? My only remaining grandparent is an evil woman who hates me for daring to be not what she thinks a woman should be. She's not about to get a handwritten letter from me.

franolan (#18,253)

@lovelettersinhell I think you and I are the same person. How tall are you?

atipofthehat (#797)

I just mailed my daughter's grandmother a Skype.

Bittersweet (#765)

Oh man, I wish I could write a letter to my grandparents, especially my maternal grandmother who was really WASP-y and undemonstrative and Florida-tan and golfing but extra-super awesome. But she, and all of them, have passed. Guess I'll get my daughter to write to her grandparents instead.

outlawjosiej (#103,670)

I wrote letters back and forth to both of my grandmas from the time I went away to college to when they died when I was 23. Having their letters to me is so amazing now that they're gone. It's not just good for them – it's great for you.

I'm going to go cry now. Miss you Grandma and Grammy!

I just moved country. I know I should write my grandparents (I'm the oldest grandchild and also I haven't seen them in the flesh for a fair few years now), but I have nothing to say. Seriously! I'm worried if I write them a letter, it'll just be half a page of random doodles and then my name signed in various different handwriting styles.

stuffisthings (#1,352)

@Vivien Smith-Smythe-Smith My grandfather died while I was away studying in England. When he first got really sick, I sent him a letter which reached him not long before he went, along with some photos I took of Birmingham (I thought "wow, it's a really nice day today!" when I took them, but they all came out grey — England!) It was fairly short and not particularly substantive but apparently it did mean a lot to him, and I am SO glad that I sent it and that he got it in time. Seriously, I doubt your grandparents are looking for literary accomplishment — just some sign that you care about/are thinking of them!

@Vivien Smith-Smythe-Smith Oh, do it! Just like the author said, they just want to hear from you – random doodlings are MORE than fine. All my generally excellent grandparents are dead, but I absolutely recall 2 letters I sent my maternal grandparents – years apart. One, from a business trip to Helsinki, where I hadn't the time or opportunity to buy an English-language magazine or paperback and had to make do with the International Herald-Tribune. I noted (wittily) to them that if they needed to know about sugar production in the Caribbean, I was there girl. And another missive – perhaps when I was between jobs? – where I mentioned I was thinking about applying for a corporate job at Blockbuster, even thought they were the Great Satan of video rental.
Not stunning prose, right? My grandparents both died thinking I was a comedic genius, and also, I hope, that I was a thoughtful granddaughter who loved them.

jwinters546 (#106,431)

As a grandparent I know I like letters.

nomorecheese (#15,517)

Last letter I wrote was to my boyfriend in the next apartment building over that if he didn't shower daily I would break up with him… he listened ;)

Sue Bowman@facebook (#111,135)

I would love nothing more then to write my Grandparents a letter. I had my grandma on my mom's side and my grandma and grandpa on my dad's side. They are all gone now. For many yrs. My children do not have a close relationship with my parents. It's a different generation. At least for my kids they don't see the importance of their grandparents. I don't know if they will when they are no longer with us, but I miss my grandparents terribly. I would love to sit down and talk to all of them.

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