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Slices of Life Along the Fox: You've got mail

Letters help with remembering a friend who passed away

Back in the day, before email and social media became an easy way to communicate, we had the U.S. Postal Service and the telephone. Since the phone might require, heaven forbid, long-distance charges, my folks wrote letters to keep in touch with friends and family that lived outside our area code. There was nothing more exciting than a letter from Aunt Marnie, Mom’s sister who lived in Arkansas. Mom read it within minutes of the mailman’s arrival, then read it to all of us at dinner.

Of course at the ripe old age of 7, I rarely got letters. So I took it upon myself to start writing to my cousin Carolyn, who is almost exactly my age. And we shared the news of the day.

“Dear Carolyn, How are you? I am fine. How is Tom [her brother]? How is the dog? Love, Sandie”.

Eventually the reply came.

“Dear Sandie, I am fine. Tom is fine. The dog is fine. Love, Carolyn.” Scintillating news. We were in second grade so that really pretty much summed up our lives. Of course it wasn’t the actual news that was so exciting. It was getting a letter addressed to me. I got to open it and read it first. My family always played along pretending it was interesting as I read it aloud at dinner.

Truth be told, I still love to get letters in the mail. That generally occurs in the month of December, which encompasses both the Christmas card season and my birthday. But there have also been some delightful occasions when I arrived home from a long day at work to find a hand-written letter to me from one Doris Hunt, a woman many in our community know as a beautifully understated philanthropist. I’ve known Doris for more than 30 years. In reflecting on her recent passing, I thought through the numerous ways our lives intersected … Baker Church, CASA, St. Charles Singers and the many conversations we shared about the joys and griefs in our family lives.

But more than the conversations, it was the notes I received in the mail from her that I will treasure the most. She sent birthday cards to every member of the Baker Church Choir each year. And each year it included a note about how truly grateful she was for the work we put in to provide such beautiful music. There were sympathy cards when I lost cherished family members, again with a very thoughtful note making clear that she remembered something I might have told her about that person and how much she cared that I had suffered a loss.

And then one of my favorites … Near city hall along the river, there is a beautiful sculpture on what is referred to as Volunteer Plaza. The sculpture is dedicated to Max and Doris Hunt for the immense amount of thought, time and money they committed to making St. Charles a better place to live. I wrote to Doris one day to tell her that I make it a point to drive west on Cedar Avenue on my way home from church so I can see how the sun, clouds or stars may be showcasing the sculpture on any given day. I told her it made me think of her every time and I was appreciative of her example of volunteering in such a humble way. Three days after I sent my note, I received in the mail a hand-written thank you for my thank you. She acknowledged that she and Max had done a bit of volunteer work, but then so had I. That sculpture is for ALL the people that give so much of themselves. I loved the note. I saved it and read it many times.

You can send all the emails you want, and they are definitely a good way to send messages quickly and make various details available on your cell phone. But nothing gives you the sense of worthiness that you feel when you see those words written specially for you from a friend.

There was a buzz about those hand-written notes from Doris Hunt that many of us were privileged to receive when we gathered for her services. She leaves a number of legacies, not the least of which is a wonderful and generous family. Yet the expression of her value of others through those notes may be one of the best.

Some legacies are difficult or expensive to carry forward. Not this one. Just do it. Write a note to someone … a note of appreciation to a teacher or health care provider, a note of sympathy, a note about something wonderful you saw someone’s child do. Or maybe a note to say “I was out to dinner at Bien Trucha and it reminded me of the time we were there and couldn’t stop laughing.” How about an old-fashioned love letter to your spouse? See what happens.  At the very least you will brighten someone’s day. It’s also possible that you will bring in the mail soon after to find, amidst the bills and ads, a letter to you from someone you care about. Nothing would please Doris more than to know that her generous spirit might live on through our efforts to spend a few moments passing along a kind word.

“Slices of Life Along the Fox” is a column that runs every other week in the St. Charles Kane County Chronicle. Sandie Benhart has family roots in the Fox Valley dating to pre-Civil War days. She has lived in St. Charles and been active in TriCities life for many years. Feedback on this column can be sent to

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