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“Things are in the saddle and ride mankind.” —Ralph Waldo Emerson
January has flown, but February is also a great month for new beginnings. Inspired by Marie Kondo, queen of the Declutter World, I vowed to sweep through the entire house and prune the excess, reduce the redundancies, eliminate the irrelevant. It’s not the first time I’ve embarked a declutter campaign, but this time, I am being non-negotiable. My new motto: OHIO (Only Handle it Once). Years of selling stuff at neighbors’ yard sales, donating to charities, giving things away: I still felt hopelessly cluttered. The “things” grew back, multiplied, maybe even reproduced at night while I was sleeping.
Correspondence collections are close to my heart, harder to part with than books, photos, or just about anything else. Because it would be tough, I decided to start there. I recently tackled a column of banker boxes that resided in a closet, unopened, for several decades. I’d do my heirs a favor by going through, keeping a precious few letters, and taking the bulk of them to the recycle bin.
As an adult adoptee, I’ve always believed that the best way to know where to go, one must see where one has been.
“The past is not dead. It is not even past.” —William Faulkner
Not surprisingly, most archived letters were from my parents, both biological and adoptive. Giovanni Cecchini, the birthfather I got to see three times after I was adopted, was a Navy photographer during WWII. When he and his new wife Margaret moved to Amelia Island, Florida, he became a well-known photographer in the town of Fernandina Beach. He gardened and photographed for many years before his death in 1998. I travel yearly to Amelia Island to visit Margaret. On 12/29/91, Giovanni wrote “Another letter from me — lucky you (I guess).”
My birthmother Velma and I had a long correspondence, and I came across her epistle of 2/13/94. She wrote “Dearest Daughter, I had to peek at my Valentine on Friday (I sent one to her every February) but put it away until Monday…Your four parents are very proud of how you grew up to be beautiful with many talents.”
My adoptive dad’s WWII letters provided the material for my book From Calcutta with Love-The WWII Letters of Richard and Reva Beard (published in 2002 by Texas Tech University Press, due to be re-issued by Pajarito Press in 2020). He also wrote to me every Sunday until his death in 1997. His letters were filled with reports of his life with my adoptive mom Reva, observations about everything from world events to the weather. On February 18, 1990, he wrote “Dearest Elaine: This week has featured several wonderful springlike days, but today and to some extent yesterday were more like typical February weather. It has been dull, overcast, and just cold enough to be raw and uncomfortable outside — I know, I tried walking around the lake and even the Canadian geese looked discomfited.”
I am reading through the boxes of letters, keeping a precious few but relegating most of the epistles to the recycling bin. Typed and penned words from the past made time fall away. I was reminded of a time when letter-writing was the way to keep in touch. Those missives kept us close despite the miles in between. Now, with Email, Skype, Facebook, WhatsApp and other channels of communication, letters are nearly obsolete. With their passing, we will have lost something irreplaceable. On the other hand, think of that person who’d love to hear from you, not instantly. Perhaps it’s not too late to revive the custom of letter-writing.
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Join Elaine on alternate Mondays for reflections on life as seen through adoption-colored glasses. Do you enjoy writing letters? Comments are welcome!

The Goodbye Baby gives an insider view of growing up adopted.