“Epistolary” — your word for the day is “Epistolary,” as in “epistolary writing.” These are stories that are told through letters, journals and other correspondence.
There are many novels out there using this format, such as “The Screwtape Letters” by C.S. Lewis and Bram Stoker’s “Dracula.” Some contemporary examples are “Up the Down Staircase” by Bel Kaufman, “Ella Minnow Pea” by Mark Dunn, “The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society” by Annie Barrows and Mary Ann Shaffer. I just bought my granddaughter a copy of “Carrie” by Stephen King, which is also listed as epistolary writing.
But to write a letter, you have to have someone to write to. A recent novel, “The Red Address Book” by Sofia Lundberg, is the tale of an elderly woman relating stories to her niece about people in that address book and how their lives intersected. It tells of her extraordinary life and of her lost love.
The title is what caught my attention, and it made me wish for my mother’s address book and the stories it could tell. The addresses provided a trail of where good friends lived. And lists of kids added to families. It gave a record of handwriting, going from strong and beautiful to something a bit shaky and less legible through the years. Mom was a wonderful letter writer and consequently had names and addresses going back many years. Her cousin, Norton, lived in Washington and could be described as eccentric. I never met him, but his letters were a great source of laughter. Mom, her sisters and some cousins exchanged Round Robin letters, telling what was going on in their lives and passing all the letters on to the next name on the list. There were addresses of construction workers who moved to town in 1959 to build a bridge. Christmas cards were exchanged for probably 50 years, including one whose signature was always “as ever, Stan.”
It made me think of my own address book — if I had one. Now everything is kept on my phone with no memories of people and places. It made me wonder who would I want to reconnect with and those stories we shared. I thought about Sara from Pratt. We had participated in a church-sponsored trip to New York and Washington, D.C., when we were juniors in high school, way back in the fall of 1970. I checked Facebook but couldn’t find a match. I tried Google and found her. She had died in 1975, only 20 years old. I was heartbroken. In the past 50 years, I’ve married and raised three kids on a farm. I’ve been working for over 20 years at a job I love. And now I have three beautiful grandchildren who bring true joy every day. Knowing Sara never had the chance to experience any of these things just broke my heart.
So I wrote a letter. I found the address of Sara’s sister in Pratt. I wanted to let Sara’s nieces and nephews know some things about her they may have never imagined. She met with a Black Panther in Greenwich Village. She just missed — by about 5 minutes — getting in the middle of a demonstration protesting Castro’s visit at the U.N. She rode the subway and ended up in Brooklyn when we missed our stop. She saw the Broadway musical “Purlie” and shopped at Macy’s. She flirted with some med students from John Hopkins. She met with Sen. Bob Dole. She witnessed the sacrifice evident at Arlington National Cemetery and visited the grave of President Kennedy. She, and all of us, stepped out of our small towns and experienced the incredible sights, sounds, smells and tastes of New York City and Washington, D.C.
All those memories came from just one name. Maybe it’s time to go back to real address books. Keep the smartphones for quick connections, but use a real book to record the names and real addresses of people who are a part of your life. Check out some of the books listed. Maybe those authors, and your letters, can someday inspire an epistolary book of your own!
Very truly yours,