Collections of old letters tell a story

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There is strength and clarity in the written word that simple conversation does not always hold. There is great weight in knowing someone took the time to sit, gather thoughts and put pen to paper with something to convey to no one else but you.

My mother, always fashionable on a farm family budget, was never the type of person to spend much money on herself. She takes pride in looking as lovely as the day will allow, but she will tell you she isn’t big on shopping for flashy clothes or jewelry.

Always writing

There were, however, two things she would have had a very hard time doing without over the years, and it says so much. Forget trips to the mall, instead, my mother’s priority has always been to keep her desk stocked with stationery and stamps, so that she could brighten someone’s day with a hand-written letter.

It seemed she always had a letter “under construction” to someone, often taking a day or two to wrap it up for the mail. Conversation at the breakfast table might center around asking Dad for news to be included in her current letter.

Mom kept in touch with various families from whom farms had been purchased, offering upbeat happenings on those farms, her tone appreciative and respectful for the hard-working people who had come before them. Dad might share current yields, or express gratitude for specific advice.

Family

When my three sisters were toddlers, Mom and Dad took great joy in finally having enough income flowing to hire a neighbor boy.

There are great black and white photographs of Tim Galliher unloading bales of hay, working in the feedlot and sitting on the newest tractor. I was born on Tim’s 16th birthday, and for a number of years, his life story entwined with our family story.

“We thought of him as family,” Mom says, and tells that his help was appreciated beyond all measure.

She says this about all those hired in the years after Tim had moved on, too. When Tim served in Vietnam with the U.S. Air Force, Mom made a concerted effort to write often with happy news from the farm he had grown to know and love right along with us. There were cards and letters being written, lying on Mom’s desk or the kitchen table, nearly every single day.

When a return letter from Tim arrived in the noon mail, it was such a happy day for all of us. Mom would read it aloud to us as we sat down to lunch.

More letters

In between all those letters, Mom also wrote notes to folks in nursing homes, hospital rooms and those mourning the loss of a loved one. I learned to count as I walked all those envelopes out to the mailbox.

Mom became pen pals with her favorite author, Patricia Leimbach, known as “the rural answer to Erma Bombeck.” The Leimbach family operated End O’Way fruit farm, near Lorain, Ohio, and Pat wrote a weekly column, “Country Wife” in the Chronicle Telegram, and published several books.

The letters they shared brightened the days for both of them, and some of Mom’s quips ended up in several of Leimbach’s columns.

Dad’s sister, my Aunt Miriam, lived in Alaska, and letters sent to her family required a special “Air Mail” stamp and envelope in those early years of their correspondence.

I have often thought what an interesting time capsule we would have if all of Mom’s various letters could magically be compiled. The stamps on those old envelopes would tell a story, right along with the words contained within.

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Judith Sutherland, born and raised on an Ohio family dairy farm, now lives on a 70-acre farm not far from the area where her father’s family settled in the 1850s. Appreciating the tranquility of rural life, Sutherland enjoys sharing a view of her world through writing. Other interests include teaching, reading, training dogs and raising puppies. She and her husband have two children, a son and a daughter, and three grandchildren.

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