Welcome to Day 12 of the 2017 #sendcardsspreadlove challenge for National Card & Letter Writing Month!
Day 12 Of The 2017 #sendcardsspreadlove Challenge
If you’re just joining us, you can get all the details for the week 2 challenge here. AND if you haven’t seen the week 1 posts yet, you won’t want to miss out on a list of reasons to write, who to send a card to or even what type of card to send. There’s also a guest post from Alexandra Franzen on the power of a letter to change a life.
Also, don’t forget to check out the other fabulous guest posts from earlier in the week, with Ameenah Samuel on hand lettering tips and free resources as well as a special interview with Sara of Constellation & Co.
For day 12 of the 2017 #sendcardsspreadlove challenge, we have Mary Potter Kenyon, author of Mary and Me: A Lasting Link Through Ink. And she has a generous GIVEAWAY for you! Mary shares her amazing story of a thirty year friendship through the act of writing weekly letters. She conservatively estimates that at three letters per week, that would be about 4,700 letters! Mary’s post is a powerful reminder to get in touch with, or stay in touch with, those we love.
A Red Letter Friendship
It’s never been the length of the friendship that brought astonishment. After all, the majority of baby boomers could likely claim a long-standing friendship in their lives. It’s always the letters; pen on paper, inside a stamped envelope, mailed-in-a-mailbox correspondence.
“You’ve been writing each other letters every week for thirty years?” The question evokes disbelief, particularly since the dawn of the Internet and ease of email. I quickly correct the misconception.
“At least one, but usually more. We write each other three or four times a week, not even waiting for a return letter before beginning another. I’ve occasionally written her two letters in a single day.”
Conservatively speaking, at just three a week, that would mean I’ve written my friend Mary approximately 4,700 letters in thirty years.
I was 27 years old and pregnant with my third child when I met Mary Humston. My husband David and I had just moved to Iowa City, where he took courses in Social Work at the University of Iowa. New to a strange neighborhood in a large college town, I spent those first few days alternately unpacking boxes and sitting in a rocking chair looking out the window, searching for a baby stroller or other tell-tale sign that meant another mother lived nearby.
Mary and her three children arrived on my doorstep a few days after our move, welcoming us to the neighborhood with a plate of cookies. For the next year, my new friend exposed me to a network of mother support. A LaLeche League, mom’s playgroup, Bible study, and even a meal brigade that delivered home cooked food for ten days after I came home from the hospital with our new baby. When we moved away a year later, I lost the network, but not the friend.
Mary and I never discussed how we were going to maintain our relationship. We simply exchanged addresses upon our good-byes, with a promise to stay in touch. I would hazard a guess that the first letter from her entered my mailbox within days.
I would go on to have five more children, while Mary stopped with three. Several mornings a week, I’d begin the day with a letter to Mary, occasionally concluding it by nightlight at the bedside of whichever child was the youngest at the time. Eventually, the letters became a warm-up for real writing, as I began to pursue publication of essays and articles.
While we addressed questions or comments from the previous correspondence, our letters consisted mostly of reports of our daily lives. Long before Facebook existed, these “status updates” came in the form of handwritten letters. Telephone calls were not part of our relationship repertoire. Neither was email. Had we kept the letters, they would have revealed far more about us than any journal could.
Some days I wish I had them, with the intimate peek at my former self as a young mother. Others, I’m glad for their absence, not necessarily wanting to revisit the mind boggling mess of minutiae mothering a large brood includes. There were many days, many years, when it seemed I struggled just to maintain a semblance of selfhood. My creative writing, and those letters to and from Mary, served as a lifeline of sorts, maintaining my sanity.
For years, ours was primarily a letter writing friendship, with the occasional face-to-face visit. When visits were arranged, it was amid the cacophony of my house full of children. I didn’t have the time or energy for the socialization my friend reveled in. It would be more than twenty years after our initial meeting that Mary and I would spend any sort of quality time alone together. Her children were all grown, my youngest was eight, when my husband offered to watch the kids while Mary and I traveled to attend a Kansas writer’s conference in November 2011. With six hours in the car and two nights at a motel, there was plenty of time to discuss dreams and sensitive topics we hadn’t always divulged in written correspondence.
The following spring, our letter writing relationship was tested. On the morning of March 27, 2012, I was writing a letter to Mary, when I went to wake my husband for his coffee. For at least thirty minutes I’d been writing within arm’s reach of his chair, where he sat with his eyes closed. He’d come home from the hospital after heart stent surgery just three days before. When I leaned over, touching his arm and whispering his name, he didn’t respond. Sometime during the night, David’s heart had stopped, and I felt as though mine had broken in two.
This could have been the end of our letters, the activity forever associated with that fateful moment when my life changed irrevocably. For a while, I worried that letter writing was ruined for me, but my lack of correspondence didn’t stop Mary. If anything, her letters increased. Somehow, despite not having lost a husband herself, or even a parent, Mary knew exactly what I needed. Besides the frequent letters, she traveled eighty miles once a month to take me out to lunch and ask the questions no one else dared ask, really listening to the answers. Our friendship deepened immensely during this time.
In the ensuing five years since my husband’s death, our regular, awe-inspiring letter writing relationship resumed, heightened with more frequent visits. Through my letters, Mary has been privy to my grief in a way few others have. She knows the depth of my loneliness, and the heartache I experienced, watching a grandson die the year after David’s death. She has endured my countless written diatribes detailing my struggle with losing morning writing time to an office job.
My letters have shared the good things too; my newly discovered passion for teaching and public speaking, the five book contracts I’ve signed since my husband’s death (including one with Mary as co-author), and my desire to obtain certification as a grief counselor. It was Mary’s support and encouragement in her return letters that made that desire a reality. It’s all there in the letters; the messiness of life, the tragedies and the triumphs.
It may be our letter writing that elicits awe, but in the end, it’s the friendship that is truly extraordinary.
Enter The Giveaway
Mary has so generously offered a free copy of her book Mary & Me: A Lasting Link Through Ink to one lucky winner. To be entered in the draw for her book, just leave a comment below letting us know who your longest friendship is with and how you keep in touch. The winner will be announced on May 5th via newsletter, on IG and in the Facebook group, so make sure you’re connected in one of those ways.
Mary Potter Kenyon is a graduate of the University of Northern Iowa, a certified grief counselor, and Senior Services librarian at the James Kennedy Public Library in Dyersville, Iowa. Kenyon is a widely published author in newspapers, magazines, anthologies, and her five books, including her award-winning “Refined By Fire: A Journey of Grief and Grace” and “Mary & Me: A Lasting Link Through Ink” that details her letter writing friendship, co-written with Mary Jedlicka Humston of Iowa City, Iowa. Mary is a sought after speaker on the topics of grief, writing, and utilizing creativity in everyday life. Find her on Facebook at Mary Potter Kenyon, check out her website www.marypotterkenyon.com and also her blog about friendship and letter writing at www.maryandmebook.wordpress.com.