During World War I, a German soldier named Max Kind was stationed in France. He took a shift late one night at a listening post outside of the barbed wire enclosing the German camp and waited eagerly for dawn to arrive so that he could read some letters that he had been given that night when it was too dark to read them. When dawn arrived, he eagerly read the letters, saving for last a letter that his mother had written. She had enclosed a photograph of herself, and while he looked at the photograph, he had a feeling that he was being watched. He looked up and saw a French soldier in his mid-to-late forties aiming a rifle straight at him. Mr. Kind completely froze and was unable to do anything to defend himself. Seeing that Mr. Kind was completely immobile, the French soldier lowered the rifle, gave Mr. Kind a wave of his hand, and left. Of course, Mr. Kind wondered why the French soldier did not kill him, and he believes, “Seeing me reading my letters from home—as he had probably realized—he too had perhaps been reminded of home: perhaps he had himself a brother, or even a son at the front. And so he thought it a shame in this mood and in this way to take the life of a man.”
Many, many readers have loved Anne Shirley, the outspoken young red-haired orphan who speaks her mind and comes to live with the elderly Marilla and Mathew Cuthbert on Prince Edward Island in Canada in the novel Anne of Green Gables—and in many other novels. Of course, many, many readers have sent letters to Ms. Montgomery—and to Anne Shirley. A letter that was addressed to “Miss Anne Shirley c/o Miss Marilla Cuthbert, Avonlea, P.E.I., Canada, Ontario,” made its way to Ms. Montgomery. Another letter came from Mark Twain, author of Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, who told her that Anne was “the dearest and most lovable child in fiction since the immortal Alice [in Wonderland].”
As you would expect, Noel Coward was witty in real life. Lawrence of Arabia once included his full Royal Air Force number at the head of a letter to him. Mr. Coward wrote back, “Dear 338171 (May I call you 338?)….” Mr. Coward also signed many letters in very friendly ways—two examples are “Love and mad mad kisses” and “Love, love, love, love, love.” By the way, in a review of On The Letters of Noël Coward, edited and with commentary by Barry Day, Daniel Mendelsohn wrote that Mr. Coward’s philosophy of living “prized above all the importance of snatching happiness in a world filled with emotional confusion imposed from without and exploding from within….”
While in school, K.I. Sudderuddin took a class trip to a remote area in Bangladesh. He wrote a letter home, and then he walked to a post office to buy a stamp and mail the letter. Unfortunately, when he arrived at the post office, he discovered that he had dropped the letter somewhere. Unable to find it, he assumed that the letter was lost forever. However, when he returned home, he discovered that his family had received and enjoyed the letter. A kind villager had found it, bought a stamp for it, and posted it. K.I. Sudderuddin says, “An act of kindness, no matter how small, touches the heart in a way time cannot dim.”
When Dr. Benjamin Spock was asked in 1943 to write a baby- and child-care book, he agreed, believing that he had the necessary skill to write such a book. One reason he had this skill was because his mother made him and his siblings write letters to her while they were away from home attending school. Dr. Spock explained, “My mother always made us write letters from school twice a week, and she would get angry if the letters were too short. I was accustomed to writing, so I enjoyed doing the book very much.” Of course, the Dr. Spock baby book—The Common Sense Book of Baby and Child Care—sold millions of copies and made him famous.
Basketball great Bob Cousy is a kind man who did much for pro basketball, both on the court and off the court. On the court, he helped the Boston Celtics win championships, and off the court, he spoke at banquets and gave time and tips to kids. Sportswriter Jim Murray knows how kind Mr. Cousy is. In many years of writing about athletes in a daily column, he received exactly three letters of appreciation from the athletes he wrote about (as of the publication of his 1965 book, The Best of Jim Murray). The first letter of appreciation was written by Mr. Cousy.
Authors and illustrators of children’s books often receive funny letters from children. For example, Gail Gibbons, author/illustrator of such nonfiction books as Check It Out!: The Book About Libraries, once received a letter that read, “Dear Gail, I love your books. Right now I am—oh, there’s a spider crawling across the page! SQUASH.” Right in the middle of the letter was a dead squashed spider. Ms. Gibbons laughed, and she kept the letter—and the dead spider.
Adam Green, who became famous when the Moldy Peaches’ “Anyone Else But You” was featured in the hit movie Juno (which also made the other half of the Moldy Peaches, Kimya Dawson, famous), has something that he is really proud of. He has received a number of fan letters, including one from a French boy who gave him thanks because he wrote “such impersonal music,” but he is really proud of a letter that made its way to him although it was addressed in this way: “ADAM GREEN, U.S.A.”
Teaching young children to write thank-you letters can be interesting. British newspaper journalist Valerie Grove once wanted her young son to write a thank-you letter to his aunt. As an aid, she gave him an example of a minimal thank-you letter formula: “Thank you very much for the [blank]. I like it very much.” Later, the boy’s aunt let her know that her son’s thank-you letter had said, “Thank you very much for the £10. I like it very much.”
© 2016, David Bruce, All Rights Reserved
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