On correspondence

Letters are an important part of Harry and International House’s story. Harry was a prolific and entertaining correspondent by letter right through his 96 years. His letter writing really took off when he took on a role at the YMCA at Leigh University when he had graduated and he had to raise the money for his salary. He discovered that if he wrote to people and continued to engage with him he could get them to give a little more each time. This was his first foray into fund raising and certainly stood him in good stead.

His letters show real warmth, wit, passion and care for others and luckily for me give a record of his thoughts and work. I believe there are hundreds if not thousands more in the archives at I-House NYC and also with various family members. He typed most of his letters too, mostly very neatly with few mistakes a blessing as his handwriting is difficult to decipher.

In this email age, I do wonder if my children or grandchildren want to piece together events whether they will have such a rich resource to do so. There is also something very touching about letters. Two of my favourite letters discovered so far are about Harry’s granddaughter Sandy, who he was very fond of. The first is when she is 13 months old when he takes the time to write a letter all about what she can now do and how much pleasure it has given him to see her grow and learn.

“I am so very fond of you and I have seen you grow from a tiny baby so small that when you came home from the hospital ten days after you were born, your little feed rested in the palm of my hand and your head was in the crook of my arm.”

The other letter is to my father about his visit with Sandy, then aged nearly 6, to the New York Zoo. It talks about how they ate tomato sandwiches and ice-cream and the animals they saw.

About this time it began to rain.  But we had bought our umbrellas, and while all the people had to flee to shelter, Sandy and Grandfather put up their umbrellas and walked about in the rain.  It was lots of fun. The people without umbrellas were grumpy, we could see that, as were also some of the animals that went inside.”

My mum writes to all her grandchildren and they do write back, they love getting her letters when they are away from home. As part of this project I have also written letters as well as emails. Some have had lovely replies and some have never been replied to, but I hope they were read. Reading Harry’s letters I am mindful that correspondence with someone over time can bring joy, solace, empathy, encouragement and love to both parties.

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