I just have to share this with you, because it has been one of the more rewarding things I have done in a long while, and I hope that perhaps if someone else out there happens to run across a pile of old letters written by a family member and is wondering what to do with them, I hope to soooooooo encourage you to do something lasting with them. Share them. Make a gorgeous scrapbook. Make a book. Whatever you do, don’t let them end up lost or trashed. Your family will cherish them more than you could have ever dreamed.
Several months ago my husband came home with a plastic bag of old letters. They were written by his dad while he was in the Army. He showed them to me and asked if perhaps someday I could type them out for him, so they’d be easier for him to read, but after encountering the glazed-over look on my face, he just kind of reached over and delicately tossed them on my “Honey-do” pile with a grin and didn’t mention them again.
Now, it’s not that I didn’t want to do this for him, it’s just that I am really not the best typist in the world. At my peak I think I could do 40 words per minute, but now that TEXTING has become a thing my typing skills suuuuuuuuck. Like seriously bad. Besides that, I have waaaaaaay too many things on my “to-do” list as it is. But when husband’s birthday began to draw near and I pondered what to get him, those letters scrambled into my head. I thought how much of a neat surprise it would be for him if I actually followed through on his request and presented him with those typed letters for his birthday, or better yet, what if I made a book?
I still wasn’t looking forward to doing all that typing, but could definitely at least start by sorting them into chronological order. And so I did. And then, just for grins, I slipped one of the letters out of its envelope and started reading. Well, that did it. With just one letter I was completely drawn in. Even though I wasn’t even born yet when these letters were written, and never knew this man until I was about the age that he was when he wrote them, it was as if someone I hadn’t heard from in a very long time had written to me. And it was someone I have missed terribly. I could hear his voice in my head as I read his words. The letter made me laugh, and it made me cry. It had me at “Hi Folks” actually, and I had to know more.
I spent the next week typing, from the moment I got out of bed in the morning to the wee hours of the night, night after night. There were a couple days I didn’t even get dressed all day, or brush my hair. My rump hurt from sitting in the chair so long, but I was obsessed to finish if it killed me. If the letters hadn’t been so interesting I might have lost interest, but he is one of those people you just want to be around, fun and entertaining and full of life, and all of that spilled out of his letters.
I took pictures of the letters and scanned each one as I typed them, thinking it would be neat to see the actual letters right beside the typed versions, and then I went through every picture stash in our possession looking for photos from that era. As luck would have it husband had also brought home an old photo album from his parents’ house, the kind with black paper pages and photo corners holding each picture in place, and there were several war-time photos scattered throughout. I scanned each one and saved them on my computer. I also sent an email to my sis-in-law asking if she had any photos, and I told her what I was doing. She went through all her pictures and sent me scans of everything she had.
I also made a list of all the names of people mentioned in the letters and asked Sis if she knew who any of those people were. She knew so much and was very helpful. And we have an aunt also still living, so I sent her the list of names and got her help too. Along with the letter and pictures I found maps, war maps, and various other items that belonged to my husband’s parents from his time in the service. Like a pair of ladies panties that had “OFF LIMITS” embroidered on them, and a scarf he must have had made in Japan with his Company and Regiment embroidered on it along with the word “wife.” I took photos of those things too and then went to work constructing the book out of all these various pieces. I also added a little bit of history about the basic training camp he was in, and a timeline and major highlights of the war for the younger readers who maybe won’t know or remember Korean War history from high school.
After weeks of constant daily labor the book was finally born. I created a front and back cover, and typed the whole thing in a WORD document, converted to a PDF, and uploaded to lulu.com for publication.
Two weeks later I had a book in my hands to give to husband. He was thrilled. He sat down the instant I gave it to him and read the whole thing, cover to cover in about 2 hours.
I couldn’t help thinking while I was putting the book together that everyone in the family would cherish a copy of it. I just knew that anyone who knew and loved Dan would delight to have their own copy. True to form, every family member that I have sent it to so far has written back and reported that they cracked the cover and couldn’t put it down. None of that is due to my writing….it is all Dan. It’s all his words.
Our nephew texted and said the book is “by far one of the best gifts he’s ever been given.” And our aunt said, “What a treasure. It’s like being in a time machine.” Our youngest daughter ended up with the dishes that Dan sent home from Japan and she said with choking emotion, “I’ll never look at those dishes the same again.” I can’t tell you how it blesses me for it to mean so much to them. (But I knew it would).
So….. if you have letters ….please ……please ….DO SOMETHING AWESOME WITH THEM. It will mean so much to your family.