Letters From Sammy…Words of Wisdom From My 93-year-old Pen Pal

It was a dark and dreary day in our little corner of the Pacific Northwest as I stood in the rain collecting the mail. It was the usual assortment of flyers and bills…but then I noticed a card nestled in between all the junk.

The handwriting on the envelope was unfamiliar and looked to be incredibly shaky. Curious, I opened it. Inside, was a sweet, personal note of Christmas blessings for my family signed, “Love, Cousin Sammy”.

Cousin Sammy? Did I even have a cousin Sammy? The name brought a vague recollection of an older man with white hair at Christmas Day gatherings with my large, extended Italian family when I was a child. I don’t remember if I ever actually spoke to him, I mostly just remember running off to play with my cousins.

I called my mom to tell her about the card. Turns out Sammy was my grandmother’s first cousin, now in his 90’s, and still living in New York, where I grew up.

I wondered what made him send a card to me, a distant cousin, who lived 3000 miles away, and who last saw him when I was a child.

Touched by his thoughtfulness, I wrote back to Sammy the very next day, thanking him for thinking of us with his kind note.

Two weeks later, another letter arrived. This time I recognized the shaky handwriting immediately. The kids gathered around and we read Sammy’s letter together. My youngest decided to send him a drawing for Valentine’s Day.

Sammy wrote back to us after he received it: “In my 92 years on this earth, I’ve had many nice things happen to me, but I must say, one of the nicest is when I opened the envelope and saw the wonderful Valentine’s drawing that your Ava made for me.”

My daughter absolutely beamed as I read her Sammy’s kind words. She ran off to make him a new drawing immediately.

When my son had to do a project for school about World War II, he decided to write to Sammy to interview him. Sammy called my son the next “Walter Cronkite” and responded, in part…

“You ask what I remember most in the 1940’s. Let’s see, that would be around 73 years ago. I remember there was rationing of gasoline and coffee and cigarettes and seeing less and less of my friends who were in the Army, Navy, or Marines. I remember seeing a gold star hanging in some windows that told me someone in that family was not coming home. I remember blackouts at night. You were not allowed to show any light coming from your house. That would make it a target for the enemy. There were air raid wardens who made sure and let you know if light was showing from your house.”

Sammy brought history alive for my son far more than his school textbook ever could.

And so it went, back and forth, for the next few years.

We lived in Washington State. Sammy had never been west of the Mississippi, but wrote that every time he now ate an apple he thought of us. ❤️ We sent him gifts during the holidays and he sent us back beautiful and heartfelt letters of thanks that were a far greater gift.

He signed his letters with, “I wish you and all your family lots of health, happiness and success and God’s blessings on all of you on the road ahead. Love always, Sammy.”

Sammy was one of the kindest people I’ve ever known and a wonderful writer. It was a sad day in our home when we learned Sammy had passed away.

I keep his letters in a box on my desk.

My children are growing up in a fast-paced world of communicating by texting, emails, and social media. I think Sammy’s letters were a welcome reprieve for all of us – a throwback to a different era. Taking pen to paper takes time, care, and effort, which make the letters all the more special.

To this day, I don’t know why Sammy sent us a card that Christmas, but I will forever be grateful that he did.

Janene