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Love Letters In a Lightning-Fast Age

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'WOULD you write a love letter on e-mail?'' I asked my twenty-something son. Yes, his answer flashed back. Why not write a ''real'' letter?, I retorted. Because she would get the e-mail instantly, he responded. Love is winged still and apparently won't wait for the postman to ring even once.

How odd, I thought, that this young man whose grandfather had literally courted his grandmother by mail would so quickly dismiss the old-fashioned love letter for an electronic missile. His namesake forebear had met the woman he was to marry during an Iowa summer in the early 1930s.

After one week of sitting in rose gardens and taking walks in the cool part of the day, she returned to her teaching job in California, and he, a young newspaperman, began his long-distance courtship.

An engagement ring was sent airmail. The plane crashed; the ring was miraculously recovered from the wreckage and again sent on its way. The following summer, my father-in-law-to-be drove West in his friend Mud Benson's Ford, and a pretty but simple wedding initiated a lifetime together that was to last some 50-odd years.

And now my son would prefer to sit at his screen writing that his love's eyes are the color of cornflowers, soft and blue, as Grandmother's were. Or that his lady is a tender soul, as was his grandmother, who couldn't resist buying violets from a street vendor on her first trip to France and who was so generous that every member of the family still has a carefully selected keepsake from that ''grand tour.''


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