Mama, The Letter Writer

Mama had lots of hobbies during her lifetime.  She crocheted and sewed, did ceramic painting, gardened, raised violets, loved books and reading, played bridge, took pictures, baked, decorated birthday cakes, collected salt and pepper shakers, bowled — and wrote letters. (and in her later years, lovvvvved to play Yahtzee — and was incredibly lucky at it!)

Now that I am developing an interest in photography, I know she would be pleased that we now share that and would say, “What took you so long!”  And, while I have never been a letter writer, I have come to realize that blogging has become for me what letter writing was for her.

Mama’s letter writing, of course, included writing to all of our far-flung relatives, because back then you didn’t just pick up the phone and call someone out-of-town to chat.  But, it also included writing to people she had “picked up” along the way.

Right after World War II, school children in the United States and Japan were encouraged to become pen pals.  I assume the thought was that it would help heal the animosity the War had caused between our two countries.  So, my three sisters who were teenagers at the end of the war (about the time I was born), all received names and addresses of pen pals at school.  I’m told they started out excited about being pen pals, but as very typical teens, they soon lost interest.  I honestly don’t know what happened to ML’s pen pal, but I think she wrote to hers for quite a while longer than the other two did to theirs.  But, Mama felt sorry for Betty and Jean’s pen pals when they lost interest, so she started writing to them herself. 

I remember hearing the story that Keiko and Chieko asked Mama if she could send them saddle shoes.  She told them she would, but they didn’t know how to tell her what their sizes would be in American sizing.  So, she told them to send her outlines of their feet, and she took the drawings to our neighbor who had a shoe store and he figured out what sizes they would need so that Mama could send them the popular shoes that they had seen pictures of, but couldn’t get.  And, in return they sent us many things from Japan.  Over the years, we received things like Geisha dolls, kimonos, shoes with the thing between the toes (there was nothing here like that at that time), beautiful paper parasols, ornate fans and silk scarves.  Mama wrote to Keiko and Chieko for many, many years.  They both became teachers and married.  They called her Mama R. 

Chieko died about 20 years ago, but Mama continued to write to Keiko as long as she was able to write.  And, about 10 years ago, when Mama was 90 years old and living with ML she received a phone call from Keiko.  Keiko (now a widow) and a friend were going to be traveling in the United States and she wanted to come and meet Mama face-to-face for the first time.  We were all excited.  Hubby and I made the two hour drive to ML’s so that we could meet her too.  She was a very charming lady who cried when she finally met Mama and told her how much she had added to her life, starting when she was a teenager in a war-torn country.  It was so fun and interesting for ML and me too to get to talk to her in person, after she and Mama had written to each other for 50 years!

I don’t know how Mama got interested in collecting salt and pepper shakers, but I do know that at some point she joined a salt and pepper shaker collecting club.  The idea was that you would exchange salt and pepper shakers with people in other states and other countries.  I don’t know when the collecting ended, and the letter writing became the focal point, but that is what happened.  (But, not before Mama had collected hundreds of sets of interesting, unique salt and pepper shakers that I remember were displayed in a glass case when I was a little girl.)  Mama became pen pals with many of the people that she had first met through that club. 

I remember when Mama and Daddy were on vacation out East one time, they stopped in Rhode Island to meet a lady that Mama had corresponded with for years.  And Mama wrote to a lady in Australia for many years too.  People always said that Mama wrote a letter just like she talked, so her letters were always very newsy, just like she was sitting at the kitchen table having a cup of coffee with you.  So, she and her pen pals had many “conversations” over the years and got to know each others’ lives very well.  When they visited the lady in Rhode Island, she got out a photo album that had all the pictures in it that Mama had sent her over the years!

So, between the pen pals and keeping up with lots of relatives all over the country, Mama wrote lots of letters, and she had a system for making sure she answered any she received, and in the order she received them.  When she got a letter, after she had read it, she would put it back in its envelope and she would then put it on the bottom of the thick stack of letters with a rubber band around it that she had to answer.  Then whenever she had time to write a letter (I think she made time to write at least one letter almost every day), she would take the top one from under the rubber band, read it again, and write a reply.  It was always fun to get the mail at our house, because there was almost always at least one letter, and many times more.

So, I have come to realize that blogging has become for me sort of like Mama’s letter writing was for her.  A way to connect with interesting people from all over the country, and the world.  I think she would have loved blogging,  but I know she loved letter writing!

8 Responses to Mama, The Letter Writer

  1. Awesome post; gave me chills. You should think about posting over at, (and I swear I’m not just saying that because I’m featured there today, haha!) You often touch the hearts of your blog fans; think about it!

  2. Sandra says:

    HPKT — Have you forgotten who you’re talking to — computer challenged here! I have no idea what BloggerAnnex is or what you have to do to post there. But, I do appreciate you thinking of me!

  3. tz says:

    I LOVE you stories….this one about your mother was very touching! I loved that Keiko was able to meet your mother and they were able to give her so much joy. And you know I’m sure that that did help with international relationhips on a personal level.

    thank you for sharing…and I think your mother would be so proud of your own writing abilities.

  4. Sandra says:

    Thank you so much, tz. Your last comment brought tears to my eyes.

  5. anymommy says:

    Wonderful stories, so well told. I can feel your mom’s personality. She probably would have loved blogging, but I bet she wouldn’t give up those letters. I feel the same way about connections through blogging. I truly enjoyed reading this!

  6. karen says:

    Yes, I think that blogging and emailing has probably become the new letter writing and way of connecting:-)

    That was a great post and some wonderful stories about your Mother. It sounds as though she was a very interesting and caring person.

    Did you save all her letters?

  7. Danielle says:

    Sandra….what a beautiful heart felt post. Your writing is lovely and you really have a way of carrying your readers away…

    I am so glad your Mum got to met her friend after all those years…what a beautiful ending…

    Thank you so much for sharing your memories with us all.

  8. Sandra says:

    anymommy — Thank you for stopping by, and commenting! It’s always fun to add a new “letter writer” to my circle of blogging friends.

    Karen — Yes, she was interesting, and it’s a little surprising to me that I see her in a much clearer light since I’ve been writing about her here! I do still have some letters she wrote to us when she traveled by train to visit my brother in California in the 80’s. I’m glad you asked that. I think I’ll get them out and see if exerpts from those letters might be an interesting post! Thanks for the inspiration!

    Danielle — Thank you for being my version of Mama’s letter-writing friend from Australia! I think I may have told you before that I still have a scarf that nice lady sent to me with a map of Australia on it from the Olympics when they were held there in the 50’s. Mama’s pen pals definitely added to my life in wonderful ways too!

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