First things first, I, Isabel, have always been a collector. As a kid, I collected rocks, stickers, magazines, Dr. Seuss books, the list could go on, but my most prized collection was my memory box. My memory box was where I kept birthday cards, notes from friends, and photographs from trips.
When I left home for college at the age of 17, I didn’t realize that I would never again spend my birthdays at home with family. My birthday is in the Fall so for the following four years, my September birthdays would be spent at Mass Art, getting ready for the coming semester. That first birthday away from home was a big one. I was turning 18 and for Latin Americans that is the equivalent of turning 21.
On the eve of my 18th birthday, a flat FedEx envelope from my mom was delivered to my dorm room. I had an idea of what may be inside, but decided to wait until my actual birthday to open it up.
The following morning I woke up too excited to do anything but open my package. As I opened the large envelope, I was surprised to find not just one, but many birthday cards. My mom had gotten everyone in my family together–Grandparents on both sides, cousins, aunts, uncles, a great aunt, and even the dogs–to each write and sign birthday cards for me.
As I read each card, my family members’ personalities jumped off the page. My grandfather teased me about how old I was getting, my brother joked about how much he missed yelling at me, and my sister reminded me to shop on her behalf. On top of their words, there was something mighty special about seeing each family member's handwriting. I especially loved, and still to this day love, my father’s uppercase square letters. To top it all off, my mom even included my dogs’ muddy paw prints.
I don’t remember if there was a gift that year, there probably was, but what I remember most about that birthday were the cards.
Every year, on September 14th, there are more cards for me to add to my memory box (which is really just a shoe box packed with cards and notes from friends and family throughout the years). Since the passing of my grandparents, these little notes have become even more precious. When I re read their messages I get to connect with them despite their physical absence. I laugh, I cry, but above all I remember. I am deeply grateful to have these mementos.
Over the past few years, as my two best friends from college moved out west, we began exchanging cards. It started out simply with postcards from their road trip and little notes telling them I missed them or that I was thinking of them. I found, however, that with each note our relationships were deepening. Sharing thoughts, memories, or stories in the written form was far more strengthening than a short conversation on the phone or a quick text message.
Upon realizing the power of handwritten notes, I began writing more letters to more people. I started sending notes to my husband Chris' grandmothers, to our parents, to friends in Boston, and even to an old elementary school friend. I discovered that it was easier to reconnect with people via letters than it was through digital communication. I still had to rely on Facebook to get my friends’ addresses, but it was easier to tell them what I’d been up to in the past however many years by putting pen to paper rather than typing it up. It was also incredibly rewarding to receive letters in return and to read my recipients’ responses to what I had written.
These notes mean so much more to me now because if someone took the time to write to me it means our relationship truly matters. That is why I love to write to friends and family: to brighten their days, to tell them they matter to me, and to continue strengthening our relationship.
p.s. I also love to collect beautiful stationery and postage stamps so that might be a secondary incentive to write.
p.p.s. Why do you write?
A snapshot of the contents of my memory box. Shown here are postcards from close friends, birthday wishes from my grandfather, and the muddy paw prints from my 18th birthday.