“Today was very long and a month of camp is a little overkill. It is almost triple the time we were here last and I miss you so much it’s hard to stand one day. I know it’s for my own good though. And if you can please send me my flashlight and a big blanket. I just can’t wait till this whole month is over. Gosh I just miss you so much I have tears in my eyes sometimes. So say hi to the poochi for me!”
Recently I read through the decade-old letters from camp that our sons wrote to Lori and me. It brought home just how important those letters—and the paper that conveys them—can be. When they were written, those notes looked like ugly ducklings. With the passage of time (and the proliferation of email and texting), they have become beautiful swans.
"Well I’ve been getting a lot of reading done I finished Catcher in the Rye & I also finished the book about Lance Armstrong but Im having a hard time getting into to kill a mockingbird. Its starting slow and kinda written weird for example instead of saying someones young they say 'he is 5 years to my junior' so I don’t think I’ll like it as much. My councelor Mattt said I can write short letters to you & he will type them up & email them for me.”
(How glad Lori and I are that the letters home were improved by neither man nor machine.)
Letters from camp often contain an extra helping of feelings. As parents, we can be granted a window into our children’s trials and triumphs as described by them, not as seen by us. Camp contains more physical challenges, more encounters with nature, more connections with strangers, more raw contact with the world—in short, more life. It is a time of separation and often homesickness, but also of coming of age.
Parents, for their part, are also coming of age, often with their first experiences as empty-nesters. For the first time, they may be composing paragraphs to their children. In our family, in fact, our two young campers received letters from two generations of parents.
“Hope you’re having fun. We haven’t rented out your room yet…. What’s it like with 6 people sleeping in one room? In some countries families live like that every day.”
Letter to her 9-year-old camper from his mother, Lori Leveen
“I received your letter the day after I wrote mine. You sure do have a full schedule--make sure you leave time for drinking, smoking and gambling.”
Letter to his 13-year-old camper from his grandfather Len Leveen
Letters to and from camp can become some of the most meaningful communications families record. Pressed into these papers from Highlander Camp is the childish shape of our sons’ handwriting and the pause, signaled by different inks, as they resumed writing after a visit to the dining hall.
The envelopes, stamped and addressed in their mother’s handwriting, show the letter-writing training wheels she supplied. The faded postal cancellations provide the dates our sons didn’t think to add, and the hastily torn-open envelopes show the young parents we were, too impatient to reach for a letter opener.
Facebook photos and YouTube videos can give us precious memories, too, so very much easier to share this instant. But original physical documents are something worth hanging on to—not just the artifacts, but the practice.
I hope children and their parents keep the tradition going far into this century.
If you have a favorite handwritten letter from camp, I’d love to share it here. Just click on the Comments link below with your submission. (If you’re reading this as an email, click here and you'll connect to Comments).