Can you remember the last personal letter you received in the mail?

I don’t mean a greeting card with a quickly dashed off line (though I certainly don’t discount the value of those) and I certainly don’t mean a form letter, but a true personal letter, maybe from a family member or friend.

Does anyone even write and send such letters anymore? Everything’s electronic these days. Email. Texts. Tweets. And in such short snippets. Even though we get a whole whopping 280 characters per tweet these days, that’s hardly a letter.

I’ve spent a lot of time this year going through my childhood home and I’ve found a lot of letters.

Letters from my granddad to my dad when he was in college. Letters from my dad to my mom when he was in the Army. Letters that were circulated among my grandparents and aunts and uncles. They called it the “Round Robin.”

Each member of the family would add their bit of news and greetings before mailing the letter off to the next in line.

“The bird is on the wing,” they would say. It could take a month or more for that robin to make its rounds.

Can you imagine, in this age of instantaneous communication, waiting that long to hear from folks? (This was also in the days of party lines and long-distance phone calls. From telephones that had cords. And were fixed to the wall!).

Over at The Arts Center, Jan Burleson has been finding and collecting a lot of letters lately, too. Over the summer, she invited a whole host of folks in this community to submit letters and memoirs and various other writings from their family members and friends. She has assembled this assortment of writings into a unique stage production she has given the title, “Sincerely, Ours.”

These letters and papers span nearly two centuries, reaching as far back as the 1830s.

There are letters from parents to children, from children to parents. Letters among lovers, spouses and friends. In seedtime and harvest, wartime and peace. There are letters about big moments in our area’s history, such as Niota’s Febb Burn writing to her son Harry as he was contemplating casting the decisive vote for women’s suffrage (and be sure not to miss her magnificent pun!).

But they mostly contain everyday, ordinary, quotidian concerns, like the letters home from the frontlines about care packages with cakes and donuts and a fabulously festering piece of homemade fudge and the delightful diary entries of a young woman just starting college in which she traces her peregrinations over whether to join a sorority.

There are letters that will make you laugh out loud (LOL), letters that might catch your throat, letters that might even inspire you to dig through some of the boxes in your own basements and attics to retrieve the words of those who have been dear to your own hearts.

But I can absolutely say this much about these letters: They will touch your heart. That is, after all, what the word “sincerely” means.

Genuinely, wholeheartedly heartfelt. From the heart.

I’m sure the writers of these letters and papers no more envisioned their words being presented publicly on something like the Black Box Stage any more than the Apostle Paul would have anticipated his letters being preserved in the sacred pages of the Bible.

But here we have them, we have kept them, and we count ourselves blessed to be able to share them with you.

These letters are performed, in many cases, if not by the authors themselves, by family members or friends of those who wrote or received them. Which just makes the words seem to jump right off the page and come alive all the more, as living words, words that now take on new life in and through and among us.

The world premiere of “Sincerely, Ours” runs one weekend only, Thursday, Oct. 18, through Saturday, Oct. 20. Live pre-show music begins at 7:10 p.m. and the show starts at 7:30 p.m. each night.

Today,Oct. 19, Arts Ambassadors are hosting “Cocktails & Correspondence,” a pre-show event encouraging patrons to write a letter as they enjoy hors d’oeuvres and a cash bar from 6-7 p.m.

Stationery and pens are provided and admission to the event is included with a ticket to the performance.

Tickets are $15 for adults and $10 for students and are on sale now for the following show dates: Thursday, Oct. 18, through Saturday, Oct. 20, at 7:30 p.m., with live music starting at 7 p.m.

All productions of Athens Community Theatre are sponsored by Dogwood Dental Care, Grover Thurman CPA, Muddy Waters Wine & Spirits, and Starr Regional Medical Center, and additional support for this production comes from Mayfield Creamery. All AACA performances are sponsored by Edward Jones of Athens.

All AACA programs are sponsored by Financial Guidance Partners, Willsonthropic, Inc.-Mintie C. Willson-Willson Family Fund, and Wolfenden Family Pharmacies, and supported by the Tennessee Arts Commission.

The Arts Center is located at 320 North White St., in Downtown Athens. For more information about this and other Arts Council events, call The Arts Center at 423-745-8781 or visit

Dave Graybeal is Senior Pastor at Keith Memorial United Methodist Church. He is an Arts Ambassador for Athens Area Council for the Arts and has performed in productions such as “Christmas and all of that Jazz” and the upcoming ACT original “Sincerely, Ours.”

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