Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Learning to Write

I have been writing letters for 30 years now and the wonderful woman who taught me how to do it "properly" will be 107 on September 25th. Her first letter to me was fun and interesting so I wrote back with great excitement. I was only 10 years old but when she wrote me back she also returned my letter with corrections. Not my spelling, not my grammar, not any words I had used but the actual content.

I had written sentences like "I went camping with my Dad" and she had questions written in red all over all over that sentence.  
Where did you go?
Are you close to your Dad?
Was it pretty?
How did you feel when you were there?
Did you do anything that you think you will remember forever?
The whole letter was covered in questions and over the following years she slowly taught me not just how to write and post a letter but how to really speak to the other person and hopefully make them feel like they are right there with you having a friendly chat. I learned so much from her (I still do!) and although my letters will never be perfect and her replies will always include corrections (yes... 30 years later she still happily and politely corrects/questions and probes me to dig deeper) she taught me what really counts in a letter.

Who cares if you went camping? Honestly very few people will although they will be polite and pretend that they do. *laugh*
They WILL care if you tell them that your single father had to deal with your first period and how embarrassed you both were. 
It will make someone laugh if you tell them that after spending 4 or 5 hours driving to the campground named "Lost Forrest Park" that your father somehow managed to always laugh at my question (every 2 minutes I am sure) "Are we Lost yet? I am wondering why he never strangled me. What a patient man he was.
It will create an amusing picture in their mind if you tell them how you spent the whole weekend catching great big "wart" covered toads for "Toad Races" with all your friends and that you even spent several hours making a track for them to "run" on... which they completely ignored! How ungrateful!
When I read a letter it is not the day to day diary that I care about anymore although without Olive it might have been okay with me. Then again, I doubt I would still be writing. How sad that would be.
Olive taught me that it is how you felt on that day, what made you laugh when you were there, who made you feel special, what you saw that just took your breath away for a moment that really matters. 

In the end I learned that the ungrateful toad is far more important than the trip.

When I get a copy of this back from her, I will expect it to look a lot like this.
Thanks Olive!!!


  1. Olive can be really proud of you! I learned how to be a better letter writer from you, Heather, and there is still a lot to learn. To be honest, English not being my mother tongue does effect the quality as I cannot always properly write down what's going on in my brain... Give my best to Olive!

  2. I think you are a fantastic writer Sandra. I really do. For English not being your mother tongue, you write it better than many people born in to it. Keep practicing. We'll all learn together. :)

  3. Every single person who calls themselves "pen friend" the world over should be required to read this post! I officially stand and salute you Olive! (who is Olive?) How absolutely wonderful that she took the time to be a good and patient teacher... and continues to. (Why do i have the odd urge to write to Olive to see what corrections i get back?) :) Beautiful post, really; it makes me a little misty, and that's not easy to do. :)

  4. and for the record, I think that Sandra writes beautifully and is very well spoken in her second adopted language!

  5. Thank you girls :) I agree with Melody: every pen paller should read this post! I am more than happy to keep practicing with the both of you!
    PS: I am curious what Olive thought about this post!

  6. Well... Olive was born in 1903 so she is not exactly part of this computer age so she can won't see the post. That said, I will be printing out out (including all the comments) and sending her a copy with my next letter. I'll let you know what she has to say. :)

  7. I love this post. I agree, very inspirational. I feel motivated to write today!