Yesterday, I wandered next door to chat with a neighbor. Minutes later in her kitchen, I mentioned how I’d recently met a distant relative from New York State for the first time. In retrospect, I realized I’d forgotten to ask that person if they’d attended the same Quaker boarding and day school in Pennsylvania as did my mother and her sister, and later a cousin.

My neighbor mentioned her grandmother’s twelve-sibling circle letter. A large family, so each had to use thin paper to fit a dozen letters in one envelope. Once read, the recipient was given two days to peruse the letters, then to write a new one, add it to the others, and send the bundle on its way.

“A quick turnaround,” I said. “Most Amish readers of circle letters are given a week.” My neighbor smiled. She’s an Economics professor, who has politely listened to me speak of the Amish often.

I walk to these mailboxes often.

I walk to this mailbox often.

Circle letters can cover any subject, such as a support group or common interests, but I like the idea of a family circle letter. I don’t have much of an extended family. My sister, who lives across town, emails and calls often. Not to mention our many lunches out. My favorite cousin in CT and I are a phone call away. I enjoy the sound of her enthusiastic voice. Her parents were my favorite aunt and uncle. She doesn’t use the Internet, so I receive no emails from her. Neither my sister nor my cousin is on Facebook.

Truth is, I know few of my relatives that I know of, partly because my father, a single child, moved to the Pacific Northwest for his job to chair a department at the University. Both my parents have died, as have my aunts and uncles.

I can’t hang onto everything, but my saved letters bring back fond memories.

I can’t hang onto everything, but my saved letters bring back fond memories.

How about you? How many letters do you receive? Bills and junkmail don’t count. Thank-you notes seem to be a dying breed. My mother-in-law writes many, but I wonder if they’d subside if she were on Facebook. Are emails and Facebook adequate substitutes for letters? I love Christmas cards, but I’ve received less over the past few years and admit I send fewer.

As an author, my readers occasionally write letters and I love them! And I’ve collected personal letters for many years. I reluctantly force myself to toss out most Christmas cards after a few months.

Would you like to be part of a letter circle or start your own? Which would you rather receive: a handwritten letter, meaning you should reply in kind, or a Facebook message or post you can immediately respond to? A telephone call or a rap on your front door from a neighbor? Do you save correspondences the way I do?


Amish-made Shop-N-Tote from Lancaster County.

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