A handwritten love letter is a keepsake for the heart, a treat for the senses.
The heft of good writing paper, the braille-like feel of writing indentations on the paper's underside and even the occasional scent of perfume or cologne can accompany sweet words from a loved one.
The scope of written communication has expanded as computer technology has wrought e-mail, instant messages, text messages, Facebook status updates and Twitter tweets. A first-class stamp will increase to 44 cents starting May 11. And the financially strapped U.S. Postal Service has even asked Congress to reduce mail delivery from six to five days a week to cut costs. Still, however increasingly rare, nothing beats a handwritten love letter on beautiful stationery.
A silver-tongued musician with The Tamburitzans swept a 17-year-old Stephanie Kosko Paul off her feet for a time in 1958. He wrote to her -- on stationery with a line of musical notes at the top -- while she was away that summer working as a nanny with a family in Beach Haven, N.J.
"He was such a treasure," says Ms. Paul, 68, of Baldwin Borough. "People don't write today. It's very sad."
They dated for a year and a half, but the romance didn't last much beyond her high school graduation. Still, she has kept his two letters all these years.
"I look at these and I read them to my one niece, and she said, 'Did men talk like that?' " Ms. Paul said. "I think girls should know that there was a time when men were polite and treated us with respect, and some girls put up with less than that and I don't know why."
People often save love letters that were neither written by nor to them.
Rita Hahne cherishes a love letter her father, Joe Price, wrote to her mother, Emilia "Mildred" Dyba, in March 1925 before they were married.
"My dad liked to sing and he taught me to sing and he taught me all the old songs and a lot of these songs are incorporated in this letter," says Mrs. Hahne, 76, of Upper St. Clair.
Mrs. Hahne had the crumbling original laminated, then made copies for her siblings. It's the only love letter she knows of between her parents.
"He died in 1953 at age 55, and my mother lived until she was almost 96, and they were just wonderful parents," she says.
Love letters aren't solely exchanged between lovers. Family and friends can share letters of love and affection, too.
Frienda Edwards keeps in her Bible a letter her mother wrote to her 53 years ago.
Her mother, Eileen Wilson, was in Jamison Hospital's maternity ward in New Castle. Mrs. Edwards, then only 13, had written her mother, who'd had a difficult pregnancy and was going to be in the hospital for a few weeks.
Mrs. Edwards treasures the letter because she felt her mother was trying to make sure she knew how much she loved her and didn't want her to worry that the new baby would displace her.
"It's so obvious she doesn't say anything about how cute he is or how much he weighs, even as I'm looking back on it, I notice she doesn't say anything about the baby," says Mrs. Edwards, 66, of Trafford, adding she has a loving relationship with her younger brother today. "I knew she didn't feel well, but she sent me the letter. I do believe it is the only thing [I have] with my mother's handwriting."
Ronna Casar Harris, then just two weeks shy of 21, wrote her mother a Mother's Day letter in 1969.
Ms. Harris, whose mother died in September three weeks shy of her 90th birthday, discovered the letter she'd written long ago while going through her mother's effects.
"It was there in the original envelope," said Ms. Harris, 60, of Squirrel Hill. "I felt very touched that she had saved it."
Magdalen Fisher has a box full of love letters -- faded ink on yellowed paper -- that her husband, George, wrote to her when they were courting. They met at the Johnstown High School prom in January 1945.
"They had the prom on Jan. 5 because the fellows from high schools were going to the Army," said Mrs. Fisher, 82, of Monroeville. "The boy who was taking me said, 'My cousin is here from Florida. Do you mind if I bring him?' "
She didn't. In fact, she started corresponding with that boy after the dance.
"At first, we were just buddies, writing to each other and then the next thing you know, he came back home for a visit and it just bloomed into love," she says.
He proposed after knowing her only a month. Her parents didn't approve because she had a scholarship to college after high school. His parents didn't approve because he was going to convert to Catholicism to marry her. Their nicknames for each other were Mayme and Butch.
In a letter dated May 9, 1945, he wrote:
"Every letter that he wrote me, I saved every one of them," Mrs. Fisher said. "They're all very beautiful."
Miss Magdalen Grandinetti, 18, married George Pearson Fisher, 21, on Nov. 22, 1945, Thanksgiving Day. Mr. Fisher, a decorated World War II gunner and former newspaper pressroom foreman, died in September 2008.
"George was the light of my life and not one day goes by that I don't feel the same about him as I did 63 years ago," she says. "I miss him with all my heart."
L.A. Johnson can be reached at email@example.com or 412-263-3903. First Published February 11, 2009 5:00 AM