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Full circle

Family’s letter-writing tradition has lasted decades

Martha Deitrich and her husband, Carl, are part of a “family circle” letter-writing tradition that goes back to the 1950s.

Martha Deitrich and her family have regularly used mail to stay in touch for more than 60 years.

They exchange letters using the “family circle” method.

“When you get a letter, you read it, then write a new one to send to the next person,” said Deitrich, a Bellefonte, PA, resident. “We try to not keep them so long. One cycle takes a few months.”

The tradition began around 1955 when Deitrich’s mother mailed a letter to her oldest daughter, who then wrote a letter to her sister.

“There was a family of nine children and she wanted to keep us together,” said Deitrich. “It was expensive to call everybody all the time.”

After Deitrich’s mother died, her father stepped in to take his wife’s place so the circle could continue.

As the years passed, two of Deitrich’s sisters died and others began to write for them.

Each cycle starts with one of Deitrich’s nieces, who lives in Pennsylvania and sends a letter to one of Deitrich’s sisters, who also resides in the state.

Another sister who lives in Ohio receives a letter next, then she sends one to a sister in Pennsylvania.

Next to get a letter is a brother in Pennsylvania, who sends one to another brother in the state.

Deitrich and her husband, Carl, are the last to get a letter each cycle.

The letters provide updates on family life, things happening in their respective communities, the weather, politics and gardening.

“Each of us has a garden and loves flowers,” said Deitrich.

She estimates her family has exchanged more than 2,400 letters.

Deitrich’s sister, Naomi Keiper, who lives in Winfield, PA, said she began participating because she didn’t want to miss out on what each family member was experiencing.

“This started before all the modern technology was available,” she said. “It was and is an inexpensive way to keep in touch with each other.”

Lois Shank, Deitrich’s niece, said she looks forward to receiving her family circle letter.

“It’s one connection I have to my deceased mother and her family,” she said.

Deitrich, who, at 87, is the oldest living sibling, said these days the letters serve as a way to update each other on their health.

“We’re all up in years now,” she said.

Deitrich continues to get surprises when she receives her letters.

“One of my niece’s daughters lives in Germany. I found out she and her husband had a baby,” she said.

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