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Voyageur's Best Generally Speaking Columns of 2003

Say it in a letter

Say it in a letter
A great way to communicate
by Jacob Kulju  |  August 26, 2003

I’ve had some more time on my hands than usual, this summer; in terms of not having academic and work-related obligations in the Twin Cities. In lieu of this, I planned several trips home, trips to relatives‚ homes, and a few trips to some out-of-state friends‚ homes. I also sprinkled a few planned camping and canoe trips into the mix. As a result, my summer has been nostalgic, sentimental, and memorable. I drove down to Dubuque, Iowa to see a friend who is leaving for Spain in the Fall; I drove up to Thief River Falls to visit my aunt for four days; I’ve been home a dozen or so times to see my parents, sister, and grandparents (they’ve certainly put me back to work now that I can come home more often. My mom had a list of chores to greet me with the last time I went home!).

This summer has also given me time to think about the role my family and friends play in my life, and about what future years out of college, possibly farther away from home, will bring. So, in an attempt to keep visiting my family and friends in spirit, I have taken to a medium that has become a rarity in the twenty-first century; a form of communication that gives people a tangible connection to another person; an expression of oneself that goes beyond words, including one’s time, care, thought, and deliberation. I have taken to letter writing.

Sending thank-you letters is something I was taught to do by my mother and my aunt Ronda. They put more emphasis on writing thank-you letters than eating three square meals a day and brushing my teeth. Few things are burned into my memory as deeply as thank-you letter writing. So,naturally, this summer I have spent a lot of time writing thank-you letters to the people I have visited and stayed with, as an expression of my gratitude. After sending an initial letter, I found that I wanted to continue contact with more letters ones that were more personal, thoughtful, and deliberate. Letters just for the sake of letting someone know how my life is.

I’ve found that letters can become a sort of poetry, a song of a moment in one’s life set on paper, and to the music of thought. I save all the beautiful things in my life in my memory to share in letters and find myself reliving my joys and memories as I write them in the most vivid way possible so my family and friends can enjoy them as fully as I hope them to. I find amazing abilities in myself when I convey my feelings to people close to me. I find what I truly feel and hope for. Writing letters is making me a more thoughtful person who revels deeply in the sweetness and warmth of my life. I also find many of my fears, lost hopes, and challenges in them.

A letter also gives someone something to hold onto. When I am married, I would find it much more romantic to have and hold onto love letters my wife had written to me while we were engaged, rather than love e-mails or voice mails. A letter contains an entire collection of personal things about its writer: handwriting, smell, teardrops, lipstick kisses, drawings, pictures, etc.

My mother is always sending me stamps in the mail. I interpret that as a strong suggestion to write her letters. I’m glad that she does. Holding onto letters can also show us pieces of the past, and pieces of ourselves and what was happening in our lives, in our country, and in the world while we were writing them. I can already imagine the day, ten years from now at Christmas when I go home and my parents decide to pull out all the old letters I wrote to them from college; to laugh and cry and see how much I, they, and the world has changed since I wrote them.

Something important for me to know is that this letter writing revelation is coming to me at a unique time in my life when I’m grappling with my future, and the possibility of moving out of the state, or even out of the country for an extended period of time. Fulfilling my roles as a son, a brother, a nephew, a grandchild, and a friend become more difficult the farther I go and more established I become away from my family. I am hopefully seeing letters as a way to send myself home as fully as possible without actually being home. But I feel confident in saying that anyone, at any stage in life, would do a lot of good by writing someone close to them a letter. And who knows, maybe an increase in letter writing will flood the postal service with revenue, and postage stamp prices won’t increase for another several years!

Jacob welcomes comments, suggestions, and encouragement to be sent to him at or #1325, 2115 Summit Ave. St. Paul, MN 55105.

This article first appeared in the August 26, 2003 issue of the Voyageur Press.