"These happy golden years are passing by, these happy golden years." Laura Ingalls Wilder

Monday, September 24, 2007

The Essence of Letters

Treasures From The Past: Like fine wine or aged cheese, time has a way of making letters of the past turn into something of value. The written word from a penned hand on a simple piece of paper can transport you back to bygone days. I have numerous jewels in the forms of such letters. Some simple notes from my grandparents upon my marriage or the birth of my children. One from my loving husband written while he was serving our country. This one in particular was written before he even knew me and speaks of his future wife and the life he'd like to pursue with her. There is talk of the China dishes he purchased while stationed off the coast of Okinawa. Dishes he would one day present to his beloved. Dishes that still occupy my kitchen cabinet some 30+ years later. A letter full of promise and about the unknown future. I cry each time I open this letter. To think he could write such loving thoughts about his unknown bride.

To see the handwriting on a letter written from my long deceased grandparents stirs warm and happy memories. I can visualize the pen in hand as the words were written. Well loved hands that cradled and cared for life. Notes from my children written in crayon proclaiming that "You're the best mommy in the whole world", and "Thank you for taking such good care of me."

The essence of letters. How are you preserving a rich heritage for your children and grandchildren. Do you hand write letters anymore? With the advent of email, the handwritten word seems to be going by the wayside. Take a moment today and write a letter. Your children and grandchildren will one day treasure re-reading it.

This is perhaps one of my favorite love letters. It was written by Sullivan Ballou while fighting during the Civil War. Enjoy.

July the 14th, 1861

Washington DC

My very dear Sarah:

The indications are very strong that we shall move in a few days - perhaps tomorrow. Lest I should not be able to write you again, I feel impelled to write lines that may fall under your eye when I shall be no more.

Our movement may be one of a few days duration and full of pleasure - and it may be one of severe conflict and death to me. Not my will, but thine 0 God, be done. If it is necessary that I should fall on the battlefield for my country, I am ready. I have no misgivings about, or lack of confidence in, the cause in which I am engaged, and my courage does not halt or falter. I know how strongly American Civilization now leans upon the triumph of the Government, and how great a debt we owe to those who went before us through the blood and suffering of the Revolution. And I am willing - perfectly willing - to lay down all my joys in this life, to help maintain this Government, and to pay that debt.

But, my dear wife, when I know that with my own joys I lay down nearly all of yours, and replace them in this life with cares and sorrows - when, after having eaten for long years the bitter fruit of orphanage myself, I must offer it as their only sustenance to my dear little children - is it weak or dishonorable, while the banner of my purpose floats calmly and proudly in the breeze, that my unbounded love for you, my darling wife and children, should struggle in fierce, though useless, contest with my love of country?

I cannot describe to you my feelings on this calm summer night, when two thousand men are sleeping around me, many of them enjoying the last, perhaps, before that of death -- and I, suspicious that Death is creeping behind me with his fatal dart, am communing with God, my country, and thee.

I have sought most closely and diligently, and often in my breast, for a wrong motive in thus hazarding the happiness of those I loved and I could not find one. A pure love of my country and of the principles have often advocated before the people and "the name of honor that I love more than I fear death" have called upon me, and I have obeyed.

Sarah, my love for you is deathless, it seems to bind me to you with mighty cables that nothing but Omnipotence could break; and yet my love of Country comes over me like a strong wind and bears me irresistibly on with all these chains to the battlefield.

The memories of the blissful moments I have spent with you come creeping over me, and I feel most gratified to God and to you that I have enjoyed them so long. And hard it is for me to give them up and burn to ashes the hopes of future years, when God willing, we might still have lived and loved together and seen our sons grow up to honorable manhood around us. I have, I know, but few and small claims upon Divine Providence, but something whispers to me - perhaps it is the wafted prayer of my little Edgar -- that I shall return to my loved ones unharmed. If I do not, my dear Sarah, never forget how much I love you, and when my last breath escapes me on the battlefield, it will whisper your name.

Forgive my many faults, and the many pains I have caused you. How thoughtless and foolish I have oftentimes been! How gladly would I wash out with my tears every little spot upon your happiness, and struggle with all the misfortune of this world, to shield you and my children from harm. But I cannot. I must watch you from the spirit land and hover near you, while you buffet the storms with your precious little freight, and wait with sad patience till we meet to part no more.

But, O Sarah! If the dead can come back to this earth and flit unseen around those they loved, I shall always be near you; in the garish day and in the darkest night -- amidst your happiest scenes and gloomiest hours - always, always; and if there be a soft breeze upon your cheek, it shall be my breath; or the cool air fans your throbbing temple, it shall be my spirit passing by.

Sarah, do not mourn me dead; think I am gone and wait for thee, for we shall meet again.

As for my little boys, they will grow as I have done, and never know a father's love and care. Little Willie is too young to remember me long, and my blue eyed Edgar will keep my frolics with him among the dimmest memories of his childhood. Sarah, I have unlimited confidence in your maternal care and your development of their characters. Tell my two mothers his and hers I call God's blessing upon them. O Sarah, I wait for you there! Come to me, and lead thither my children.



Sara said...

i absolutely love letters! i still have a box of letters from the mr. when he was still the boyfriend in my dresser drawer. and isn't the entire Bible a letter from God to us?

Pat said...

I think letter writing is a lost art - certainly to the degree of that beautiful letter you shared. When Hal was in the Army, and we were engaged, I couldn't wait to get the mail every day, and he never failed to write me. I wish I still had them, but sad to say I don't. I have other precious notes that he has written after that time that are safely stored away. One favorite is a letter he wrote as if coming from Sara when he baby sister was born. I don't think those were her sentiments, but it was sweet none the less!!

Margie said...

i love real letters!

Constance said...

I remember the first time I heard of that letter, it was Ken Burn's Civil War epic. My knees buckled and my heart melted. My husband ALWAYS includes a letter in his cards, (not just to me, BTW) the kids say it's their favorite part of their birthday, seeing what Dad wrote.

Speaking of letters, we are currently watching Ken Burns War series right now on PBS on WW2. Last night there were letters read aloud from a young man serving in Italy. At the end, they shared that he had been killed. I told Dave how when my Grandmother passed away 7 years ago, she left me her trunk filled with photographs but there was also a letter in there as well.

My great Uncle AZ, her brother had written it to her on the USS Enterprise's stationary. He concludes with the words,
"don't worry about your twin brothers (he and Uncle AC served together, I wrote about Uncle AC's trip to the WW2 Memorial in DC a few months back) we can take care of ourselves."

It was postmarked Aug. 21, 1942. He was killed Aug. 24, 1942 when the munitions blew up below deck, in the 2nd bombing run of the Japanese in the Solomon Islands.

That was creepy.

Deb said...

What a wonderful post! Thanks for sharing such a moving letter from a long forgotten soldier. I did write a letter today --albeit a short one --and it was written before I read this post.

I've always loved letters. Perhaps that's why I illustrate cards for a living --writing is fast becoming a lost art with all the internet technology we have.

Maggie Ann said...

How beautiful this letter is....what a gem. What agony of spirit to be separated. My husband was in Korea for about 7 months right after we married. I am thrilled 'that' separation is history!... Our son is in Europe because he must travel to represent the company he works for...but he had a couple of days for sightseeing too. We miss him..but do get to talk almost daily. Hope you've had a nice day...I was spinning most of it.

Jim said...

I like your letter. But it is sad. Way too long for a suicide letter, could it be 'Sullivan' is going off to prison?

You can't retract letters sent. Those kept you can burn.
Those left on your computer and deleted, where do they really go?

Blogs are here to stay too. They may go away from you but somewhere they still float around.
Just Google something you have deleted, it still comes up in summary form.
You can tell, I'm back, and even posted a couple of blogs yesterday.

Jada's Gigi said...

what a beautiful letter, tears to my eyes.....yes it seems the art is getting lost and any I receive I treasure though I am slow to write them myself. I do sometimes write note in cards to loved ones...rather long notes...:)

Mrs. Darling said...

Oh mrs mac what a beautiful letter. I love letter writing. I have all the cards and letters that my husband and I have ever sent each other the past 21 years.