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The Lost Art of Letter Writing

When was the last time you received a friendly letter? Of course you can’t remember. Nobody writes friendly letters anymore! Letter writing is a lost art. Just as lost as making fire with two sticks, cursive handwriting, canning peaches and reading maps.

Maybe it’s just me, but I used to love getting a letter in the mail. Every year around my birthday when I was a kid, I would get two letters. One was from Mabel and Jurgen Myhre, my baptismal sponsors in northern Minnesota. Along with a birthday card, there would be a one-page letter written in Mabel’s shaky handwriting. Taped to the inside of the card would be two quarters which gave the envelope a nice weighty feel. My grandma Tjernagel would also write to me on my birthday and since quarters were scarce for her, she would include a stick of Juicy Fruit gum in the card.

My dad was a prolific letter writer. Even after the advent of electronic communication, he would send out by post a weekly missive to his older children who had left the roost. It was always typed out, one-half page in length, one paragraph long with forward slashes to indicate new topics. After a quick shout out to our mother and her escapades as homemaker and piano teacher, he would dedicate the majority of most letters to his favorite topic: SPORTS! As he was always looking out for the spiritual welfare of his five children, each letter would be accompanied by a church bulletin from the previous Sunday.

I followed in my dad’s footsteps. I enjoyed writing letters. Just ask my wife. We spent our freshman year of college together. After she quit school and returned to Wisconsin, I wrote to her every day, and by every day, I mean every day. While my friends were playing cards, watching TV or pretending to study, I would hunker down in my dorm room for half an hour and fire off a handwritten letter to my girlfriend before joining my buddies. (Most of my meager budget that year went towards the purchase of envelopes, stamps...and ice cream.) If you don’t believe me, I have proof. She saved them all and they’re currently collecting dust in a box in our son’s basement.


Up until my dad passed away last year, we still communicated regularly, mostly by email. I miss that weekly exchange. These days, all our family communication is done via text messaging and a variety of other social media apps. In what most likely will be a vain effort to resurrect the art of letter writing, I made up my mind to treat our grandchildren to the joys of receiving a paper letter in the mail!


Instead of using regular paper, however, I decided to up the ante. I collected some brown paper bags from the grocery store. I removed the handles, cut the bottoms out and trimmed the edges with a pinking shears to give it an artistic, jaggedy look. I printed off some photos of the times we spent together and glued them to the bag before writing a letter by hand with a variety of colored markers. The first time I did this, I also stuck a $20 bill in each letter. (Thanks, inflation.) I put them in envelopes and sent them off to our five youngest grandkids. To say they were thrilled would be an understatement. I’m not sure if it was the actual letter or the $20 that made them happiest, but whatever.

The second time I did this, I decided to double down on the ante upping. Instead of putting a $20 bill in each letter, I stopped by the bank and got $40 worth of quarters, dimes, nickels and pennies. Then I popped into Michael’s craft store and bought a glue gun. After pasting photos and writing the letters, I glued $10 worth of coins to each of them. If you think two quarters gives an envelope a nice weighty feel, imagine what $10 worth of coins feels like. The postage to mail each letter was more than the money I sent!

The kids were delighted to receive another grocery bag letter in the mail. Smiles turned to frowns, however, when they realized how hard it was to unstick coins from the paper and then peel dried glue off each coin. My daughter sent us a video of our youngest grandson, Jude, as he peeled off his coins. “Why is there so much glue on this money!” he yelled with disgust. My granddaughter in California exhibited similar hostility in the picture her father sent.

After getting some mostly negative feedback from the kiddos, I assured them that in the future I would put the glue gun away and revert to sending paper monies. Shooting for the moon, Jude said, “Buppa, next time can you send me a hondo?”


I went to the mailbox today. It was filled with junk mail. If you feel inspired to write me a friendly letter, I’ll happily receive it and respond in kind!


Dan Madson

50 Surf Song Ln, Unit 413

Miramar Beach, FL 32550

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Peter Faugstad
Peter Faugstad
Oct 12, 2023

Uncle Dan,

This is so cool. Those paper bag letters are a work of art and a labor of love. What a gift for your grandkids. // The last time I received a hand-written letter from a friend, I felt so guilty because I knew I wouldn't write back! Isn't that terrible? I set the letter aside to "remind" me to write back, but it eventually got lost in the shuffle of life. I still feel guilt about that one. // My girls have real pen pals, though, and regularly write and receive letters in the mail. And my boys send their cousins mazes they make or sports commentaries. I hope they continue to enjoy sending and receiving mail (but…

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