Like pretty much everyone else of my generation, I have never written a love letter. Even the thought of it mortifies me. I'm 21 and a true digital native - so for me, the letterbox is a relic of a bygone era. Frankly, the only thing I'm likely to get in the post is a bill.
But with Valentine's Day around the corner, I wonder how many of us have old letters stashed away in the attic, written by parents or grandparents many years ago, that offer a unique window to the past.
I never met my maternal grandad, Apolinaras, as he died the year before I was born. Throughout my childhood in Lithuania, I heard a lot about what a good person he was, how caring and how kind he was. But apart from seeing faded photographs, I knew little about him. Then, several months ago, my grandmother, Brone, produced an old blue folder she'd been keeping. To my amazement, it was full to the brim of love letters Grandad received from former girlfriends in the late 1950s.
She always knew the folder existed, but had no idea what was in it. It was only after he died, sorting through his things, that she looked inside. When she found the letters, she kept them. One day, she thought, it would be fun for the family to look back and learn more about what Grandad was like when he was young.
She was right. Reading these letters, written so long ago by three different women, it was clear that Grandad had had a busy romantic life before he finally settled down and got married. Tattered at the edges, the blue folder has a sticker on the inside cover listing its price in the 1956 Russia-occupied state of Lithuania - three rubles and 25 cents, or around four cent in today's money. There are about 50-odd pages, which have browned with time. They're carefully fastened to the folder with a metal pin, the fragile papers scrawled on in cursive writing and blue fountain pen, edges tattered and delicate.
The letters are from three different women - Joana, Stepa and Adele. Reading them today is like being transported back in time to a lost world. Joana writes honestly and from the heart. She paints a vivid picture of her her surroundings as she puts pen to paper - describing what the weather is like, what she can hear, what she can smell.
She tells my grandad what she has been up to in recent days, describing her mishaps or adventures, which include going off to college, travelling home for the weekend. But she's also painfully honest. At the end of each letter, she invites my grandad to come visit her - at times, she is almost pleading. Their correspondence starts at the beginning of summer, but as the heat fades, so does the relationship. Joana now begins scolding grandad for failing to visit her.
"I was very disappointed when you didn't come down last Saturday," she writes. "Why didn't you come and visit? I waited and waited for you, I looked forward to seeing you all week."
While she feels hurt by his no-shows, even her angry letters end with an invite, or a 'see you soon'. But these sign-offs are worlds away from what they were when she first started sending him letters, where she would sign off with 'kisses' or 'I love you'.
Stepa writes for two months with five letters. Grandad was a vet and from her letters, I can see that she trained as a vet also, but it's not clear if it was in the same practice as him. She talks about little else. Adele's letters cover by far the longest period. They begin in February 1955 and she is still writing almost two years later, in January 1957. It's clear, as her letters progress, that she has fallen head over heels in love with my grandad.
She has many pet names for him, frequently referring to him as 'love' or 'sweetheart' and describes her excitement when he sends her a letter. She admits that she reads his letters to her "many, many times" and waits eagerly all week for Sundays, when he drives down to see her. Then, they spend the entire day together and either go to "dances or the cinema". When he fails to show up one weekend, she is devastated. "I waited all day to see you, but you might come down tomorrow instead," she says. "I can't wait to see you again, when we can be together again, to see your blue sparkling eyes and put my hand through your dark brown hair."
Like Joana, she calls him out when things turn sour towards the end. Why, she demands, does he tell her he stays in on the weekends, when in fact he was in town with his friends?
Adele questions why he asked to end the relationship in one of his letters. It's like a 1957 version of breaking up via text.
Reading these highly personal, heartfelt letters, I realise with a pang that there's zero chance my own grandchildren will have this experience. My love letters just won't exist. You can't print out and make a folder of Messenger texts, with their endless emojis and acronyms. Besides, most of them are short and pretty meaningless.
In fact, the only letters I ever took the time to write were to my friends back in Lithuania shortly after my family first moved to Ireland in 2007.
Phonecalls home were too expensive and so, aged eight, I put pen to paper. It was fun for a time, but my friends and I grew tired and older and it wasn't cool to write a letter any more. The next time I sent a letter was aged 16, to a friend who was in the Gaeltacht, where mobile phone use wasn't permitted. In secondary school, I was the recipient of a 20-line poem from somebody who wanted me to be their Valentine, hidden in a glittery red card. It was flattering, but sadly the feeling was not mutual.
The modern version of love letters are two-liner flirty texts, which disappear into the ether when profiles are deleted, phones smashed and exes blocked. So much for posterity. But I feel like we've lost something so sacred by abandoning the art of the letter. Just imagine: each of grandad's girlfriends would have taken the time to sit down, reflect on what they were going to say and pour their hearts out to him. There's something incredibly honest about that.
Cork Lecturer and folklorist Shane Lehane has run a cultural heritage course at CSN College of Further Education for over 30 years and says that letters are a physical way of leaving our mark.
"They're physical marks, a touchstone of their presence in life, almost like an autograph. I always say to my students, you write a letter on two occasions, either when you're in love or when you're sympathising with someone, you take the time to sit at the kitchen table and let it flow onto the page," he explains. "You can't say it, but you can write it."
Reading my grandad's letters, I feel a bit like an invader, as they were written for his eyes only. But they gave me a treasured insight into what he was really like. I was always told how clever and kind he was and here was proof - he had many girlfriends and was well liked by the ladies. It gave me a whole new perspective on him.
"Having your grandad's letters is a very special keepsake," Lehane tells me. He also has his very own precious collection of handwritten keepsakes, in the form of postcards. "A group of my friends and I started sending postcards to each other and we've been doing it for years now. We all have a collection of the stupidest postcards, with all different foreign stamps that we have collected over the years. It's a record of life, they come out of nothing and it's a bit of fun, you pick up a postcard, stamp and address it and it goes to anywhere in the world, which is fascinating," he says.
Perhaps all is not lost for the love letter. We've seen a resurgence of interest in vinyl and vintage clothing among a digital generation yearning for something more tactile and tangible. Will something similar happen with people choosing to write a letter instead of sending a text or making a phonecall? Maybe. Lehane's students recently put together an exhibition where his students wrote to various prominent figures in Ireland and exhibited their letters - former president Mary McAleese was among those who wrote back.
"I think there will be a drive to return to writing letters now, the older processes will make a return," Lehane agrees. "Books haven't gone because of the pleasure of having the spine on the shelf." Letters, he says, have a similar appeal.
For Adele, Joana and Stepa, who wrote in the hopes of establishing a relationship with my grandad, putting pen to paper and letting their thoughts flow was the only way. But it was no to avail, as my grandad married my grandmother several years later. And funnily enough, my grandmother never wrote him a single letter.
Do you have any treasured family letters or love letters that you'd like to share with our readers? We'd love to hear from you. Get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org