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#TBT Mail call: Get out those pens and paper … it’s time to write

1959 Ron, David Lehmer

Have you written a letter lately?

A personal letter, that is. Not a letter of complaint. Not a thank you note. Not a Christmas letter. And not an electronic one. A real, honest-to-goodness, pen-to-paper retelling of details of your life to be stuffed into a paper envelope, adorned with a stamp and sent by what is known today as snail mail to its recipient.

Chances are, it's been a while. That's a shame. There was a time not so very long ago when letter-writing was a major means of communication. Certainly mail call was one of the few pleasures for many of us who spent extended periods of time away from our loved ones while serving our country in the pre-Internet age.

Caches of letters have proved to be invaluable assets in constructing many a family history. They fill in gaps of missing knowledge, stir memories and often reflect an eloquence too-often missing in a hastily dashed e-mail.

One question we should be asking ourselves as preservers of our own family histories is what kind of record are we leaving for our descendents? Have we done as good a job at documenting our lives as our ancestors?

For scientists, the electronic age has already created some serious problems.

As American Institute of Physics historian Spencer Weart notes: “We have paper from 2000 BC, but we can't read the first e-mail ever sent. We have the data, and the magnetic tape – but the format is lost.”

Take some time to revive this lost art. Slow down long enough to dash off a personal note to someone you love. Put it in an envelope, put on a stamp (you don't even have to lick them anymore!) and send it on its way.

For some tips on writing a personal letter, you can read Kym Moore's The Art of Personal Letter Writing: 7 Basic Elements or buy Shirley Ann Parker's book, What Shall I Write? Personal Letters For All Occasions.

AARP Iowa volunteer Larry Lehmer is a retired Des Moines Register editor and author of The Day the Music Died: The Last Tour of Buddy Holly, the Big Bopper and Ritchie Valens. He is currently working on a book about the Philadelphia years of American Bandstand. You can read his Bandstand blog here.

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