Paper Kisses

I inherited from my maternal grandmother a love of books, of words, and of letters. Her “Independence Day Present” to me was a combination of those three loves: Susan Besze Wallace’s beautiful collection Love & War: 250 Years of Wartime Love Letters. Major Sullivan Ballou wrote the following in a letter to his wife Sarah during the Civil War:

“A pure love of my country and of the principles have often advocated before the people and ‘the name of honor that I love more than I fear death’ have called upon me, and I have obeyed. Sarah, my love for you is deathless, it seems to bind me to you with mighty cables that nothing but Omnipotence could break; and yet my love of Country comes over me like a strong wind and bears me irresistibly on with all these chains to the battlefield. The memories of the blissful moments I have spent with you come creeping over me, and I feel most gratified to God and to you that I have enjoyed them so long. And hard it is for me to give them up and burn to ashes the hopes of future years, when God willing, we might still have lived and loved together and seen our sons grow up to honorable manhood around us. …my dear Sarah, never forget how much I love you, and when my last breath escapes me on the battlefield, it will whisper your name.”

As I read Major Ballou’s letter, and others like them, in Love & War, I am reminded of the power of the written word. As Susan Besze Wallace says, “Letters…serve as a lifeline between lovers. Letters…manifest the power of love and hope, amid tragedy.”

Country singer John Michael Montgomery’s song “Letters from Home” brings tears to my eyes:

I hold it up and show my buddies
Like we ain’t scared and our boots ain’t muddy
And they all laugh ‘cause she calls me honey
But they take it hard ‘cause I don’t read the good parts
I fold it up and put it in my shirt
Pick up my gun and get back to work
And it keeps me drivin’ on
Waitin’ on letters from home

Often it is but a phrase from a letter that we cling to throughout the day, as the reminder that someone, somewhere loves us… And every time I hear that song, every time I find a loving letter in my mailbox, I am reminded of the importance of writing letters to those I love. Our letters reach where our arms cannot. Our letters preserve the expression of our feelings. Our letters outlive us.

In the introduction to Love & War Susan Besze Wallace wrote, “Unlike a telephone call, letters take commitment and concentration. They’re like paper kisses, some short and sweet, others long and deep.”

“Paper Kisses.” I like that. From now on, I will think of love letters as paper kisses that I can enjoy over and over again. I began writing love letters to my future husband years ago (it’s a great way to chronicle your love for your husband even before you ever meet him)…and I have an idea that even after we’ve been married 25 years, I’ll still be writing him love letters, to leave on his pillow or in his sock drawer. I’m sure that kissing will be pretty nice, but I’ll always cherish my paper kisses, too. 🙂

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