How To Write A Letter Like It's 1953

Posted on December 06 2019

My street is lined with trees and several homes have a stone hitching post that once was a necessity, but has now become decoration. At the end of the block is a mailbox repainted green often, in order to cover the latest graffiti. The door that you would once slide your letter down is now glued shut and it sits empty day after day.

In my small home office I’m sorting through Dudley Huppler’s old letters and postcards. Written at a time when stamps were 3 cents and milk was delivered to your doorstep. The letters are from his friends, Marianne Moore the famous poet of her time, surrealist artists Sylvia Fein, Karl Priebe, and John Wilde, photographer George Platt Lynes, composer Lee Hoiby, his family, and many more. As I decipher the handwriting and piece together the one sided puzzle that sits in front of me I notice the language. There is a lot of gratitude for each other’s work and for just being, poetic descriptions grace the pages, always signed with some iteration of ‘Love’, and the occasional story about a dodged ailment. In a letter to his family, Dudley wrote:

“Dinner was pretty good, if the cooking methods are discounted. Digestion good & only, might got trots, & that I figured was from Velma clipping ice from refrigerator unit instead of getting out ice-cubes to put in whiskey! – I saw it ‘frothing’ & only figured out later when I saw her do it & begged her not to, for my sake...”

I have always romanticized this era and paint it with a vision of simplicity, which is something I strive for every day. Today I send text messages with acronyms and an emoji that translates my emotion. If only there was an emoji with a poodle skirt and a 1950s hotrod in the driveway.

Dudley was an avid writer and receiver of many letters and postcards. In the 1950s he printed his artwork on thousands of postcards. He bound them in stacks of 8 for $1.25 and sold them directly to friends, friends of friends, and to Serendipity in New York City. All of the postcards that did not sell during that time stayed in the basement of his Boulder, Colorado home and then moved to his niece’s attic after his death in 1988.

Inspired by the beauty and descriptiveness of Dudley’s letters, I sat down to write a letter of my own and found these themes in many of the letters and postcards.

The Greeting

I noticed in the hundreds of letters I read from the 1940’s and 50’s the greeting was playful, with Dudley now becoming ‘Dear Doll’ or a shortened version of his name to Dud.

The First Paragraph

Start off by saying why you’re writing. If there was time between correspondence there was a heartfelt apology in the first paragraph as to why the absence. Otherwise, they would tend to start out with notifying the recipient as to when they will be in town next or follow up with something from the last letter.

The Heart

This is where you share your feelings and open up with more details and can talk about the other person. Play with the poet in all of us and describe something beautiful. In a letter Dudley wrote to a friend:

"As I write I have water glasses of grand late fall roses wafted from a commercial bldg’s garden – so I’m implicated too: a fellow grabber. It is so marvelous: how when as now the leaves fall & things close in, the roses mount to a peak. Yellows – so pale & delicate - ; whites – so translucent dark reds – so glowing; & pinks run riot – every gradation of pink in the spectrum. I’ll draw one in the de lusso sketch book Louise my niece has given me 3 of, but it will have to be an opening bud only: open roses are the hardest thing to draw that there is – the elaboration of petals defeats any effort to keep track of them, & I don’t go in for ‘faking it’. Also, any flower moves a shade every second on the second, & they’re worse than children in ‘sitting-still’. The capacity of art to stop them – to waylay vagrancy & corruption – is what, I guess, art is about. So I keep taking cracks at them."


Finishing Your Letter

In the last paragraph, you want to tie back to the beginning and look to the future. Sign the bottom with something heartfelt like; Love, With all my love, or Warmly.

I chose to write to my older sister, signed 'Love, Your little sis'. Sealing the envelope and adding a forever stamp I walk outside and down the street. Walking past the mailbox on the corner wondering what it was like in the 1950’s when this mailbox was still in use. Now comes the hard part while you patiently anticipate if you will receive a letter back.

December 7, 2019 is National Letter Writing Day, take a moment to write to someone you care about. Channel your inner mid-century being and write from your heart. Upon receipt your loved one won’t help but swoon!

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