Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Dear Beatrix Potter. . . . Thank You For Your Letters

When is the last time you received a handwritten letter?  When is the last time that you actually wrote one yourself. . . got out a pen, sheet of paper or notecard, connected them in cursive or print, stuffed and licked the envelope, attached a stamp and dropped your letter in a real mailbox or postal slot?  Truth be told, I rarely write them myself, but I have recently been inspired to begin the practice anew.

Inspired by Beatrix Potter.

                                                    (photo credit - childrensclassics.com.au)

In case you're not familiar with Ms. Potter, surely the names Peter Rabbit, Flopsy, Mopsy and Cotton-tail ring a bell. Beatrix Potter first created The Tale of Peter Rabbit, featuring the Rabbit family and Mr. McGregor, in letters she wrote to her governess' children.

Beatrix Potter: The Picture Letters, was on exhibit at the J. Pierpont Morgan Library and Museum from  November 2 - January 27.

I could hardy wait to enter the room filled with twenty-two of Beatrix Potter's handwritten letters, containing original pen-drawn artwork.  Perhaps it goes back to the letters my grandmother wrote me at camp, or the notes that my 6th grade boyfriend passed to a friend to pass to me, or more recently the birthday cards our grandchildren created with hearts and rainbow letters.  For me, the person is present in the handwriting.

Imagine that you're seven or eight years old, at home in bed with the flu.  You don't feel like doing anything but rest under layers of blankets and eat ice chips.  The world has forgotten you.  Then your mom or dad brings in a letter, a real letter, that has just arrived -- addressed to YOU!  You quickly, but carefully, open the envelope and find inside a note that looks like this. .

("My dear Noel, 
       I am so sorry to hear through your Aunt Rosie that you are ill.  You must be like this little mouse, and this is the doctor, Mr. Mole and Nurse Mouse with a teacup.")  The letter is signed, "I remain yours affectionately, Beatrix Potter."  

 Would you not feel excited, special, less feverish, even for a brief moment as the magic of that handwritten letter, with its engaging sketches, makes you smile?  Of course you would!  Your age makes no difference.  You have been remembered.  Someone has taken the time to think of just the right words, to write them in her own hand, to pen your name and send it off.

As I walked from letter to letter in the exhibit, I was quietly reminded of the power of handwriting to touch me.  When I take my grandmother's one remaining letter out of the keepsake box in the closet, I immediately recognize her delicate, yet strong, cursive. I feel her presence in a tangible way.  No doubt, the children who received Beatrix's letters felt that a part of her must be there with them, as they held her letter in their hands.

In this world of immediate communication, I will surely continue to email and text.  Perhaps Beatrix would have done the same had computers and smart phones been available, for the sake of efficiency.  But for the truly personal, when she wanted to express herself in a way that only her handwriting (and sketches) could, I know that she would turn to pen and paper.

 Now, so will I.
Thank you notes to dear family for
birthday gifts.
they feel my presence,
even tuck the letters in a box.
(And perhaps. . . write me back.)



  1. There is something very special about a handwritten note. When you're holding it, it's almost as if you're holding the hand that wrote it. <3 And, when you write one, I think you are giving both a bit of yourself and the gift of time. You're telling the person that they are important enough to you to spend the extra few minutes it takes to sit and write. And, isn't it a moment of joy to find something of substance in your mailbox?

    One of my favorite little love notes from a couple of years ago just says "Mommy" in a proud, confident, loving childish scrawl. It makes me smile every time I see it,

    I think I need to write more letters!

  2. You are teaching Lexi the gift of handwritten notes. I love getting mail from her, and realize that I "owe" her a letter. It will be fun writing to her!

  3. I'm so glad you like them! :>

  4. ps You should know that she keeps your letters and rereads them often. <3


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