poetry and prose about place

from the pages of an old diary – writing letters

with 4 comments

Letter writing has become an orphan communication in our world of emails and Facebook and Tweets.  But in the past, when these forms of communication did not yet exist, and long-distance phone calls were so expensive they were only used for emergencies, people kept in touch by letter.

My Mom and I wrote to one another regularly for 30 years, even after I had my ‘family calling telephone plan’.  I still have all her letters and looking at her handwriting makes me feel near to her.  Her words, the beautiful way she formed her letters, and the stories they tell, are concrete evidence of her life and interests and her love for her family.

My great-aunt’s diaries show she also considered letters to be an important part of her daily life.  In her diaries, letters received and written were an activity she recorded regularly.  The mail arrived twice per day in the community where she lived and her diaries tell they went for the mail daily.

post cards were part of the mail... this funny post card was sent to my great-aunt in 1908 when she attended nursing school

Letters from her son or daughter-in-law were recorded with tangible joy.  She wrote to them regularly, approximately three times per month, and they wrote as regularly to her.   She records her letters as, ‘I wrote to St. John today’   (she is referring to the place where they lived, Saint John, New Brunswick).

During World War II, letters from her son had taken on a particular importance since they signalled he was alive and well.

In 1957, perhaps the favourite letter received was from her little grand-daughter: on November 26, 1957, she wrote, ‘had a letter from b. a.’ 

The poem below was inspired by that letter, although I do not have the letter itself and the account is from my head.



letter from her grand-daughter


she watches for your

letter, your definite

hand, the dog-eared page

of a book begun, unfinished

creases in paper once folded


as if an envelope could

revive the creak in the upstairs hall

re-clatter the spoon in an empty

jar of jam, jangle the telephone


the trouble is, of course,

you grew, learned numbers

the difference between

‘b’ and ‘d’,developed your signature

went to war


of course, all that

made possible this envelope, addressed

to Grabma, the stamp

licked on sideways, sweet stick-men

and baby words in pencil

pressed, float

from the page



©  Jane Tims  2012

Written by jane tims

February 22, 2012 at 6:46 am

4 Responses

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  1. I love your poem for this one, Jane. It brought (happy) tears to my eyes thinking about the first letter I received from my oldest granddaughter. There were not many words, but it is a letter that now sits in my heart. 🙂



    February 22, 2012 at 6:33 pm

    • Thanks Robin. I’m glad the poem resonates with you. Occasionally I will find some of my son’s early drawings. I love the stick-men and the robots he used to draw. Jane


      jane tims

      February 23, 2012 at 6:51 am

  2. Interesting postcard – I wonder if the sender was suggesting something to your great aunt… After she died, I discovered that my grandmother saved all of her grandchildren’s letters. She was my favorite pen pal and the way you feel about your mom’s letters resonates with me.


    Barbara Rodgers

    February 22, 2012 at 1:54 pm

    • Hi. The meaning of the post card, if there was one, is lost in time. It’s great that you have the letters. When I see my Mom’s words I think, her hand rested here. Life is peculiar. Jane


      jane tims

      February 23, 2012 at 6:43 am

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