Lost and Found: Letterdipity

David John Phillips Lost LetterEvery once in a while, I do a Google News search on the term “lost letter” because I enjoy the serendipity — let’s call it Letterdipity — of what pops out, everything from an 1800 letter from an Egyptian soldier to a World War I-era letter discovered behind an Orkney fireplace.

Letters arrive mysteriously in the mail decades after they are sent, are discovered tucked inside books and occasionally leave behind only their envelopes.

We even sometimes deliberately lose letters, dropping a message in a bottle into the water or an envelope on the ground like P.G. Wodehouse to see if strangers really are kind enough to mail found letters.

Whatever their origins, whatever their hiding places, lost letters connect us with the past: our own, our ancestors’ or a small slice of someone else’s life story.

Here’s my latest find, a woman discovering a letter Roald Dahl (author of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory) sent to her son 35 years ago.

Of course, the best part of lost letters is finding one ourselves. Have you ever found a lost letter?

Roald Dahl Letter

Post Whistle on Pinterest!

PinboardGood news, Pinterest browsers! Post Whistle now offers two pinboards on Pinterest: Ladies with Letters and Lights, Letters, Action! for Film Friday.

Ladies with Letters gathers together all of the lovely ladies and letters featured on the blog, and will also include additional art from other sources.

And if you’re wondering what to watch for the evening, just scroll through Lights, Letters, Action!

I hope you enjoy the new Post Whistle pinboards.

Ladies with Letters: Vermeer’s Letter Writer

Vermeer for blogI confess that I’m one of those philistines who knew very little about Johannes Vermeer until I watched the film, The Girl with a Pearl Earring. And now I will forever picture him as looking exactly like Colin Firth.

The 17th century artist’s legacy resides in a scant 34 paintings, primarily domestic scenes infused with light, such as this exquisite portrait of a woman writing a letter. Vermeer enjoyed a modest career in the Dutch city of Delft during his lifetime, but sank into obscurity until his work was rediscovered in the 19th century.

imagesNote that the woman in yellow wore the same enormous pearl earrings that figured so prominently in the portrait after which the  film was named. From her beribboned hair to her fur trimmed jacket, this was a woman accustomed to a comfortable lifestyle and the funds to purchase luxury items.

Compared to other parts of Europe, citizens of the Dutch Republic enjoyed a higher rate of literacy. The ability of a woman to write her own letters 350 years ago was the exception rather than the rule.

Vermeer detail for blogVermeer’s meticulous style captured a wealth of detail: a pearl necklace with ribbon ties lies on the table, the writer’s quill pen is stained black at the nib, and her beautiful brass bound chest sports drawers with keyholes to lock up her treasures.

What is she writing about to her friends or family? That the servants broke another plate or that the price of fish at the market has risen again or perhaps that her seamstress finished her new yellow coat.

Whatever the news, she conveyed it in style in Vermeer’s richly lighted world.

You can find cards and other items featuring Vermeer’s Letter Writer at the Post Whistle store on Zazzle.  

Visit the Ladies with Letters pin board on Pinterest.

Film Friday: Picture Bride

Picture BridePicture Bride is a lyrical movie about a Hawaii seldom seen on film — the endless fields of sugar cane plantations that covered vast tracts of land in the 19th and early 20th century.

Riyo (Youki Kudoh), a young Japanese woman, doesn’t know what she will do now that her father has died and left her an orphan. She learns that her aunt has found her a husband through a matchmaker.

Riyo is to become a picture bride, marrying a sugar cane worker in far-off Hawaii. From 1907 to 1924, more than 20,000 Japanese, Okinawan and Korean women went to Hawaii to marry men of their own nationality. They knew each other only through their letters and photos.

Riyo’s orderly, traditional Japan is filmed in black and white. I love this image of her clutching the letter that will lead to a new life, excited about the prospect of marriage, yet frightened about leaving all she knows behind. She is comforted by the picture of her husband-to-be, Matsuji (Akira Takayama), a handsome, serious young face.

Letter in picture bride

The film segues to color in Hawaii, where Riyo experiences her first shock of how strange this new world will be. She steps off the boat with several other picture brides, but doesn’t see the man from her photograph. Instead, a much older Matsuji meets her at the dock, confessing that he sent a picture of his younger self.

This isn’t the life Riyo expected, marrying a middle-aged husband and working long hours in the hot, endless cane fields. But in meeting these challenges, Riyo becomes a strong young woman, who is very different from the sheltered girl she was in Japan.

For a visually stunning film, a poignant and believable character study, and a story where letters have the power to change lives, Picture Bride is a must-see film.

Film Friday: Do you give Picture Bride your stamp of approval?

Visit Film Friday’s Pinterest pinboard, Lights, Letters, Action!

Film Friday: Pride and Prejudice

P&P-Darcy writing to Elizabeth closeupWas there ever a storyline more filled with letters than Pride and Prejudice? The delectable 1995 mini-series, starring Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle, introduces many of the story’s most significant plot points with letters, moving the tale forward from one missive to the next.

P & P- Caroline Bingley's LetterCaroline Bingley’s letter to Jane provides the eldest Bennet daughter with the chance to spend more time with the household of the eligible, single “£5,000 a year!” Mr. Bingley. Her matchmaking mama literally snatches the page from Jane’s hands to peruse it herself. Mrs. Bennet titters happily over the salutation “My dear friend,” and parses every line of the short note for its possibilities. “You must go and make what you can of it,” she pronounces.

P&P- MrA letter from Mr. Collins — cousin and heir to the Bennet family’s estate — is a pompous masterpiece. Mr. Bennet reads it aloud at the breakfast table, clearly relishing the writer’s ridiculous style. When Lizzy asks her father, “Can he be a sensible man, sir?” Her father replies, “Oh, I think not, my dear. Indeed, I have great hopes of finding him quite the reverse.”

Of course, Pride and Prejudice‘s most enduring love story is that of Mr. Darcy and Lizzy Bennet. Their dance between love and loathing remains one of fiction’s treasured romances a full two centuries after Jane Austen‘s book first appeared in London bookstores. Naturally, a letter from Darcy to Elizabeth plays a pivotal role when he details Mr. Wickham’s past and tries to justify separating Bingley from Jane.

PP-Darcy-writing-to-elizabeth P&P- Darcy hands elizabeth a letter

I loved how that letter is neatly sealed with wax, but surrounded by broken quill tips, mute evidence of Darcy’s effort to explain himself to the woman he loves.

P&P-LettersMore letters exchange hands and news, sometimes read on screen and sometimes only discussed. But one is in no doubt that for the inhabitants of Regency England in general, and for the Bennet family in particular, theirs was a world of letters.

Film Friday: Do you give Pride and Prejudice your stamp of approval?

Visit Film Friday’s Pinterest pinboard, Lights, Letters, Action!

Sending Time Capsules

salem022Collecting postcards is like having a shoebox full of time capsules. If someone mailed the card, there’s the message of course, but also the stamp (which may have cost very little), the postmarked date and perhaps a picture of a very different world.

A century after Nora sent Miss Sarah S. Yates this postcard from Salem, Massachusetts, the 200-year-old willows still stand in the park by the harbor, but all those ladies in big hats and gentlemen in suits are gone.

However, I don’t need to look to antique postcards to find a bygone age. I see many a lost world in postcards that landed in my mailbox.

DisneylandMy sister sent me this postcard of Disneyland in 1978. Walt Disney had been gone more than a decade, but either the park still celebrated their founder or they made sure they used up their stock of old cards. Check out the characters lined up behind Walt — a few familiar faces, but many have been supplanted by 35 years of new arrivals. Sherrie wrote, “My company had a special deal where by buying a ticket for $5.75 per person, you got into Disneyland and all the rides were free from 4 pm – 12 midnight.” Another era indeed!

RenoReno may not have changed as much as Las Vegas over the years, but it sure doesn’t look like this anymore. Notice how the streets in the center of town are nearly empty of traffic, but plenty of people throng the sidewalks. Did people actually walk more back then?

Lucille BallA family friend, Dagmar Morse, sent me this postcard from Palm Springs. Aunt Dag was a seamstress, and when my parents visited her house, my sister and I played with a machine she had for covering buttons with fabric to match the silk and velvet cocktail dresses she made to order. She wrote, “I’ve also been very busy; I have 32 gowns for the Rebecca Lodge to finish by Christmas.”

As for the picture of Lucille Ball’s home, I’m struck by its modest dimensions compared to the homes owned by many celebrities today as well as by its openness to the street. No high walls or security gates. I wonder if Lucy bothered with an entourage?

But as much as the world changes, our messages home sound very familiar. Here’s what Nora told Sarah:

“Dear S — Am spending the day here. It is a beautiful beach but very quiet. The old willows are grand. I have not seen any witches as yet, probably they fly at night. Hope you are all well. With love to you all, Nora.”


Post Secret

regretWe all have secrets. Small ones woven into the fabric of our lives like gum wrappers glinting in a bird’s nest. Or gigantic ones that bore holes into our psyches. Or buried deep, so deep we may scarcely be aware of their existence, dark secrets that whisper in the night.

The amazing website Post Secret, described as an ongoing community art project, provides a forum where all those secrets can finally be told — anonymously — by mailing a postcard to a Germantown, Maryland address.

Over the past decade, the outpouring of confidences large and small has spawned an album, books and public events. Post Secret has logged over 700 million visits and its creator, Frank Warren, has received more than a million postcards.

Do you have a secret to tell?

That Personal Touch

notecardsMy friend Susan and her husband Russ love to photograph nature. And every year I count on her sharing some of their beautiful captures not on Facebook or Instagram, but in handmade notecards she sends as Christmas gifts.

She layers the images with colorful card stock to frame each scene, creating notecards that will meld their special moments with my own when I write letters to friends and families inside.

This is the batch I received this year. Aren’t they wonderful?

And as tempting as it is to line them up on a shelf at home to enjoy, I prefer to pass on the wonder in the mail — and this time in my blog as well.

Pen vs. Keyboard

Fountain pen on an antique letterBefore I write anything further, let me say that I obviously use both: the pen and the keyboard. Moreover, I firmly believe there is room for both, and benefits to derive from both methods of communication.

Now that I’ve made that point, let me share with you an interesting article from the British newspaper, The Guardian — Handwriting vs typing: is the pen still mightier than the keyboard? (PDF)

Some neuroscientists argue that the ability to write one’s letters by hand helps children learn how to write better than if one only types on a keyboard. Moreover, mastering the additional art of cursive writing also aids in cognitive development. At a time when many schools in the United States are dropping the requirement for cursive, other countries, such as France, are emphasizing its benefits more in their school curriculum.

Our reliance on — and near-constant connectivity to — devices such as smart phones, laptops, notebooks, etc. is definitely rewiring our brains, especially those of younger generations being raised in a computer environment from day one.

So the question may not be whether people will want to write handwritten letters in the future but rather will they know how to?

To encourage a child in your life to write letters, take a look at these suggestions on the Reading Rainbow blog.