I’ve Got Mail

I am hopelessly sentimental about a handful of things, letters being very high on that short list. It’s easy to be ruthless with an email and consign it forever to the dreaded Trash folder. But a letter? That’s another thing entirely.

If you think enough of me to rummage about for stationery, put pen to paper, address and stamp an envelope, and wade through a metaphorical two feet of snow to get to the mailbox, I feel justified in treasuring your letter. It’s the tactile sensation of holding in my hand something you’ve held in yours and seeing your handwriting. Folded up and tucked away someplace safe, a letter can be revisited again and again. It’s a warmly personal experience in a way that texts and emails will never replace.

I feel such a thrill when the mail arrives and I spy something so easily detectable in the stack of bills as – can it be? – A letter! A note! For me?

One family story for you and then I’ll share a few notable letters. When my mother was a little girl, she found a stack of letters exchanged by her parents during their courtship. Inspired, she proceeded to play mailman by delivering a letter to each mailbox along the street. One by one, the letters were returned by the neighbors to her astonished and mortified mother. I guess this is like hitting the “reply to all” button accidentally.


If it weren’t for letters, we wouldn’t know that we dodged a bullet in the casting of “Gone With The Wind.”


Frankly, my dear, you have nothing on Clark Gable.

images (3)

Belle Watling, maybe. One of the O’Hara sisters even. But Scarlett? Fiddle-dee-dee.

From her letters now documented in the book, The Scarlett Letters, we know now that, inconceivably, Margaret Mitchell preferred Charles Boyer to Clark Gable for the role of Rhett Butler: “And I wish Charles Boyer didn’t have a French accent for he’s my choice for Rhett.” Clark Gable “has never been the choice for Rhett down here.”  Quelle horreur!  Her choice for Scarlett was fellow Georgia girl, Miriam Hopkins.

One heaves a giant sigh of relief that casting of the movie was in other more capable hands.


Letters offer a glimpse into the courage and conviction of public figures. Here an excruciatingly polite First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt to the Daughters of the American Revolution after their famous refusal to allow Marian Anderson to sing at Constitution Hall:


Alabama Attorney General Bill Baxley’s admirably succinct response to Klansman and National States’ Rights Party Chairman Edward Fields who wanted the recently renewed investigation into the 16th Street Church Bombing case suspended. Note the quotation marks around “Dr.” Punctuation has such power, non?



Can you imagine the love story behind an envelope adorned with this much care?



And to Miss Gertrude Stein, no rose is a rose is a rose is a rose from this publisher.



An indescribably beautiful gift to a bereaved husband:

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Seems a shame somehow to banish some of my favorite letters and cards to the drawer. A few of these merit framing and there are still one or two unadorned walls in this old Barn. Another project, perhaps?


From my pile of cards and letters

Do you spy the barn owl in the pile above?  Have I mentioned how much I love owls? Well, I really do, so imagine my delight when I came across this image combining two favorite things:

036a0ff01e7bf146d196467a486b0e64Maybe I need to get away from the computer now and put my thoughts into practice. The mail goes both ways, I’m told.

Thanks for reading,










About Silver in the Barn

Life in a 1915 farmhouse in Central Virginia. And the odd thought or two.
This entry was posted in Books, History, Projects and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

83 Responses to I’ve Got Mail

  1. Wonderful!
    If you’ve never read Lee Smith’s book “Fair and Tender Ladies,” I think you would enjoy it. She got the idea and some source material for the book at an estate sale where she bought a stack of old letters between friends.


    • Thank you for the book suggestion. Even though I have a toppling over “TBR” pile, I am always open to new titles and this sounds delightful. I have never read Lee Smith but the premise sounds right up my alley. Have you read “Guernsey Literary Society….?” Epistolary novels are kind of a favorite of mine.


  2. I LOVE that story! Your poor grandma must have been mortified! I hope she got them all back. 🙂 I agree that letters are so much more personal and important feeling. I wish that was still the custom. 😀


  3. Sandra says:

    I loved the story about your grandmother. 🙂 My parents had an old RAF kit-bag which contained the letters they’d exchanged during the war. I was too young to know it was wrong to read them, and fortunately I was fairly quickly discovered at the heinous task! A delightful post.


  4. ritaroberts says:

    Fantastic post Barbara. I agree about handwritten letters, they are much more personal than a typed out letter. Here is an example ! . I once ran a small business selling sauces made from original Roman and Medieval recipes. A lady from Scotland wrote and asked where I got one of the ingredients from to which I answered with a handwritten letter. This lady was so pleased I had answered her in this way and wrote again to tell me so. We became friends and corresponded for four years onward. Sadly she passed away some time ago and I miss receiving her letters. Thanks for reminding me of how important friendship can be.


    • Hello Rita! Your story is so touching; it reminds me of 84, Charing Cross Road by Helen Hanff. An enduring friendship, like yours with the Scottish lady, was forged by letters sent back and forth from New York City to London in search of antique books. I assume you never met in person? And still she left a gap in your life.


  5. Dianna says:

    I love the idea of framing special letters! I have some stashed away in a drawer from my mom’s sisters…. perhaps I’ll “borrow” your idea.
    Such a sweet gesture on the part of that doctor.


    • The letter from the doctor must have meant the world to that husband; just priceless. Much of my “priceless” art is along the vein of framing special letters…one is a series of calendar art that appealed so, I had to frame them. So borrow away, Dianna, I am far from the first to come up with this idea.


  6. Phil Taylor says:

    I think handwriting is becoming a lost art. I can’t remember the last time I received a letter. The only handwritten mail I get is a postcard about my next dental appt. that I filled out the last time I was there. And I usually don’t recognize my own writing at first.


  7. Parnassus says:

    Hello Barbara, The first time I saw Gone with the Wind, on a trip to Canada, it was poorly dubbed in French, with Rhett sporting a low-pitched, growling, stereotypical French voice, kind of like Maurice Chevalier’s. I kept expecting Clark Gable to start wearing horizontally-striped shirts in the next scene, so I can understand Ms. Mitchell’s apprehensions.

    These letters are wonderful examples of the strong and characteristic emotions that can be transmitted via letter. I am a long-time collector of old letters; they forge a direct and personal connection to past people and events that few other things can. It is no wonder that many individual letters have been saved even over a period of centuries.
    P.S. Have you noticed how much that lady on the envelope looks like Aunt Fritzi Ritz?


    • Jim, prepare for a long-winded reply to your great comment. As a child, I watched “Bonanza” dubbed in German when we were stationed overseas. Those voices became what I expected to hear and when we moved stateside, the actual voices of Little Joe, Hoss, and Pa just seemed wrong somehow! I can hardly restrain myself from envisioning Rhett in the horizontally-striped shirt….perhaps even with beret and a slim cigarette…..and as a complete aside, I could never hear the voice of Maruice Chevalier or Charles Boyer without thinking of Pepe Le Pew.

      I didn’t know you collected old letters (how wonderful!) and would so love to know more. Perhaps a future blog post?

      And finally, Aunt Fritzi Ritz! You are absolutely right….a dead ringer! Thanks for the jog to my memory of “Nancy”; I had long forgotten that favorite cartoon strip.


  8. nrhatch says:

    Wonderful examples, Barbara. I loved Eleanor Roosevelt’s letter ~ what a great lady. And Bill Baxley’s letter is stellar, short, swift, and to the point!

    I’ve recently put my grandfather’s letters in a 3 ring binder. Easy to flip through and they stay in order. Other letters from various and sundry are kept in a clear shoebox which I fish through from time to time . . . always meaning to weed it out. Without success.

    So much easier to delete far less personal e-mails.


    • We’ve discussed before our mutual admiration society for Eleanor Roosevelt. Reading her letter cemented my opinion of her. And Bill Baxley, I’m sure, would be great fun at a cocktail party. You, Nancy, have such a treasure trove in your grandfather’s letters. So much of his warmth, humor, and intelligence comes through in these letters which we all get to enjoy. If those had been emails….poof!…..lost forevermore to cyper space. I’m glad you’re preserving them – I wonder what he would have thought of them being read by so many of us?


      • nrhatch says:

        I gave that some thought before I started sharing them and decided he wouldn’t mind. He was always interested in History. These letters are His Story.


      • And I think you’re right to do so. I guess what I mean is that in such short a span of time, relatively speaking, from when he wrote this little snippets of his life, his words are now being read all over the world. It’s quite remarkable, isn’t it? I think he would have something customarily wry to say about that!


      • nrhatch says:

        Yes! He would be amazed at the technology that allows such immediate dissemination of our thoughts, including his words. And I think he would get a kick out of reading reactions to his thoughts from 1/2 a century ago.

        I know he enjoyed reading his father’s letters from the Civil War for the “window” they provided to the past. Maybe he hoped someone would enjoy reading his letters one day too.


      • Oh! That reminds me! My father once got his hands on a stack of letters written by a young Union soldier from New Hampshire named Edd Mahogany. My dad pored through these letters diligently, tracing Edd’s progress through various battles, etc., and at the end of it all had to conclude that, sadly, he had authentic Civil War-era handwritten letters from the most boring soldier that ever lived. We laugh about it to this day.

        Liked by 2 people

      • nrhatch says:

        So Mr. Mahogany was just “dead wood”? 😛


      • COL!!! It was irresistible, wasn’t it? No pun left unturned around here……

        Liked by 1 person

  9. Lovely Barbara! I feel this way about books as well. My husband has gone over to the ‘dark side’ and purchased various e-readers, while I continue to work on my home library.

    Hope you have a wonderful day!



    • Hello, Caroline. I have mixed feelings about e-readers. I enjoy them for the free samples – you can get such a good impression of a book without investing in one – and I love them for travel. But I am with you completely….there are certain things which simply require being read in book form and certain authors too. And what is a home without a library, I ask you?


  10. Great story. In our book-buying efforts we seem to gravitate to second hand books obtained from Red Cross, Vinnies and other charities. Sometimes one finds a letter or card tucked in between the pages.At other times, but not often, certain sentences are underlined. It must have struck a strong chord in the reader and one wonders what the reader felt at the time.
    My E-reader is catching dust in the bedside drawer of odds and ends including expired batteries and discarded spectacles.


    • Exactly! You feel this tenuous connection to a stranger wondering what they felt as they read the same passage you have. My friend in Texas bought I book at a used-book store which I had highly recommended. Reading the book, she came across the yellowed obituary from the NY Times of Nancy Mitford, another author I had been pressing on her. And so my friend was kind enough to send me a note with that obituary enclosed in it. You should write a post on the objects you’ve found someday, Gerard. Little treasures.


  11. My mother still has the letters sent to her by an American serviceman her family befriended when he was serving in England during world War II….all are typed in a slightly violet ink…full of humour…he seems such a kind young man, far from home and glad of a cup of good coffee and a fireside.


    • And naturally the romantic in me wonders why your mother has kept the letters all these years and whether that young GI might still be alive….how lovely, in any event, that she has them. I know exactly the violet type you describe, some of my father’s letters to home from overseas are the same.


  12. restlessjo says:

    I have a rapidly escalating number of owl photos, due to a friend who is similarly afflicted. 🙂 I seem to see them everywhere, though sadly, seldom the real thing.
    Sorry it’s taken me so long to journey to your blog, Barbara. It’s been a hectic few days. I do like that GP letter- uncommonly kind. And yes, I can understand your hoarding tendency. 🙂


    • Hi Jo! My brother-in-law, avid bird photographer, rarely is able to capture an owl but when he does, euphoria ensues! Occasionally we hear one hooting in the deep woods but we never see….such an elusive thing, they are. The GP letter is such a great example of the ten minutes spent writing a letter being paid back immeasurably.

      Liked by 1 person

  13. Sue Mayo says:

    I love old letters and cards. I think I still have all I have received from my parent and my children and friends. Thanks for sharing yours. All are very special.


  14. Kate says:

    Wonderful post Barbara! I too love letters, and must get back into the habit of writing them. Have you ever read the tome “Letters between 6 sisters?” Collected (edited by Charlottel Mosely) letters between the Mitford girls… I was so sad to come to the end of that one, and felt so sorry for Debo, the last surviving sister and the silence that must have echoed when all the letters stopped. XKate (figintherose)


    • How beautifully you put that, Kate….the echoing silence for Debo when all the letters stopped. OK, as somebody who howled with laughter at parts of “The Pursuit of Love” and swore that I would read every thing Mitford I could get my hands on, I now confess that I’ve not read the “Letters Between Six Sisters” which is a situation I need to fix right now. I’m off to investigate finding a hard copy…no ebook version of this for me. And how lovely to see you over here from IG, Kate!! Welcome.


  15. dorannrule says:

    This is such a beautiful post and so fascinating with all the letters from famous people. I hate to think that letters are becoming a lost art for it will be the saddest of losses. Saved letters will become antique vignettes – portraits of earlier times. Will we find mini portraits of ourselves in those captured time capsules? Or will we need decoders to unravel the mysteries of cursive writing?


  16. joannesisco says:

    I really enjoyed this post. Letters are a lost treasure now and I enjoyed peeking at these!


  17. Jodi says:

    You must know I love this post 🙂 (and I see something familiar :). ) You are so right. The art of letter writing and card-making/sending has become such a special gift in our technological age. I know that I, too, am thrilled to get a personal piece of mail that so rarely comes, and I treasure each piece.


  18. Eliza Waters says:

    I, too, have trouble throwing cards and letters away. They are tokens of loving care, how can I? Enjoyable post, per usual!


  19. Behind the Story says:

    Your desire to hang onto old cards and letters reminds me of my daughter, who can’t bear to get rid of old calendars. She hangs them on walls, makes covers out of them, and just plain saves them.

    I love the story about your mother. And isn’t the envelope to the private in Nashville lovely? My dad fought in WWII, and my mom did little drawings for him. He was able to save a few. One is a handmade valentine.


    • How precious that Valentine must be. And I am SO glad you left a comment here, Nicki. Yesterday I told myself to get busy ordering the books I want to read from various bloggers and I knew there was one I was forgetting which was driving me crazy. It was yours!!! Will be taking care of that this morning. And I have a little gallery arrangement in my upstairs hall of framed calendar art (Pacific Northwest Indian masks), so I relate to your daughter.

      Liked by 1 person

  20. bkpyett says:

    I relate to your love of receiving letters and cards. Some interesting letters too. Letters are few and far between these days and our postal service is considering cutting back to three days a week!


  21. Oh, I’m with you on the letters. Could never throw them away. But I wonder about the future. Will things disappear or last longer floating about in the ether?
    Loved the examples you gave – such humanity.


    • I think we are losing something special with the demise of the handwritten letter and gaining much with this cyper-connection we now have with people all over the world. I just don’t think one should be completely sacrificed for the other. Pen and paper still have a place.

      Liked by 1 person

  22. Lovely post Barbara. I save letters and cards too. Great story about your mother delivering the love letters! Thanks for the history lesson. I’ve always been an Eleanor fan, even more after reading her letter resigning from the DAR. She had more intestinal fortitude in the tip of her nail of her left pinky than all of our current congress combined.


  23. KerryCan says:

    What an incredible post! You’ve packed so much good stuff in here I know I’ll miss commenting on something so just assume I loved it all! But absolute favorite is Baxley’s response to the dimwit–sometimes a thing just needs to be said. And when I read Fifield’s letter, I’m amazed that Stein was the famous one–Fifield had quite a way with words, too!


  24. kristieinbc says:

    Your grandmother’s story is hilarious! “Reply to all” indeed! Loved the letters, especially the one from the doctor.


  25. Thom Hickey says:

    Thanks. nothing beats the human touch of paper, envelope, stamp and above all handwriting! seeing my mother’s handwriting always swooshes me back in time and I’m a child (her child) again. Are some of these letters taken from the Letters Of Note website?

    Regards Thom..


    • Thank you, Thom. I don’t really know from where these letters originated on the web; I have gathered these and many more via Pinterest. It could very well be that “Letters of Note” was a source for the pinners. I like how you describe your visceral reaction to your mother’s handwriting. My mother’s is old school German and quite difficult to read, but certainly recognizable.

      Liked by 1 person

  26. M-R says:

    I occasionally receive a postcard from a friend when she’s travelling, but the only letter I’ve received in the last 5 years was one about a year back from a woman in my home town who wanted to tell me about the similarity of our situations after read Atlmd. It was very touching.

    Liked by 1 person

  27. reocochran says:

    I treasure letters, too. The story about your mother delivering the love letters to all the neighbors had me nearly roaring, I laughed out loud! I enjoy reading War Letters. I wrote a post about the man who was an editor of a magazine or publisher or something, then featured some of the classic letters he had collected over years. He is donating them to two different universities, I believe. I was interested in reading all the different periods of time, from Revolutionary War thru Civil War up to the most recent ‘skirmishes…’ I have weekly letters to my Mom, while she sends me articles and such, along with some of her ‘scattered’ thoughts. I have a pile of old postcards from my Grandpa to me, along with several of my favorite cards, Sweet 16 and Valentines from my Dad to me.
    I wish to know what your recent letter was about and who wrote it… am I the only ‘nosy’ one here?! smiles!


    • And to imagine that my mother’s letter delivery occurred in Germany during WWII makes it even worse. Germans are not known for intimate friendships with their neighbors – a rather insular sort of culture – and I can only imagine my grandmother’s horror!! EGAD. You have a Valentine from your father??? Oh, that is so touching and dear! That did not happen in my house, trust me! It’s OK, though, my husband more than makes up for it. A recent letter arrived one day after Berkley died so obviously my friend did not know about it when she sent it. And in her little package to me was a book that she thought I might enjoy. How wonderful is that??


  28. Diane Ahlberg says:

    Here here I’m so with you about sending a birthday card or thank you note that has a stamp on it. After my mom and dad”s passing I came across cards and love notes my father had written while away at war and cards after their marriage – I almost felt like a peeping Tom reading these tied in a bow, upon our recent move I found letters that my husband wrote to me during our courtship. I will treasure all these ” finds” forever
    Wonderful post Barb
    Thanks for sharing!


  29. Sheryl says:

    Whew, these are powerful letters. I especially liked the envelop with drawing of the couple on it, and the letter from the emergency room doctor.


  30. Almost Iowa says:

    Fabulous essay, I wish I could have stuffed this comment into an envelope.


  31. menomama3 says:

    Love the story of distributing love-letters to the neighbours. Talk about airing the family secrets!


  32. ChristineR says:

    A terrific post, Barbara. I really must try and make my own Christmas cards this year, I know my loved ones appreciate them. And I must write to a couple of old friends – I hope the shock doesn’t kill them! 🙂


  33. Ah yes. There’s nothing like a letter. 🙂


  34. cat9984 says:

    So many times I want to send a letter to thank someone for a service and never get around to it. This is a great reminder. Thanks.


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