I couldn’t help but think about the letters I used to receive. Mother wrote (using a gold fountain pen) in a neat, straight- across- the- page, well formed writing style. My father’s handwriting was more distinct, and I have a few of his letters which I keep merely to enjoy his strong, slanted style. Sadly, however, his handwriting is difficult to read. My sister, who later became the keeper of the gold fountain pen, also wrote much like my mother. She also became the keeper of the family news, writing to the rest of us about who was getting married, having a baby, planning a career change, and what was served for lunch or dinner at some gathering or event. Before the time of emails, I had a friend who also wrote me delightful letters, and of course, I too am and always have been a letter-writer.
I now have a problem. What do I do with all these letters? Once upon a time, I thought that I would write a book about my grandmother, my mother, and my sister and use the three to compare generational mores and matters. That was a short-lived idea, mainly because my mother died in the 1980s, and my sister and I started writing emails. I never knew my grandmother, and I’d been counting on my mother to tell me about her.
You see, I was born late in my parents’ lives and because their letters and stories about family often had to do with their brothers and sisters, and both my father and my mother came from large families, I felt that through them, I understood life in the 19th century pretty well.
In my state of Indiana, the teaching of cursive is no longer required in the elementary grades—something some legislators now are considering reversing. I – the packrat that I am—still have a notebook wherein I practiced cursive writing as a child. I look at those round circles and straight up and down lines and marvel at how I finally mastered the correct forms. The importance of good penmanship was stressed as a measure of discipline and success, and trust me, our teachers made us do it until we did it right!
My delightful letter-writer friend now resorts to emails, and I miss her letters. I miss letters in general….and their first class status. Of course I understand the deplorable situation of the US Postal Service, now that most mailings are junk flyers and bills. Even banks and other businesses are urging everyone to “go green” and do business and banking on line. I protest. I still like the paper trail. I really am “old school.” It’s okay. I can deal with it, and I like to buy stamps even though they’re getting expensive.
The other day when the weather was cold and I had a good fire going, I decided to burn some letters. I grabbed a stack of the old Christmas cards with notes written in them, invitations, some family letters, and then--- and then-- I couldn’t bear to toss my mother or my father or my sister or my friend’s letters into the fire. I couldn’t. As soon as they burned, a part of me would be gone. I wasn’t ready to let them go. Once burned, I wouldn’t be able to enjoy the handwriting styles on the envelopes, styles that let me know immediately upon taking them out of the mailbox from whom they were.
I note now that when I write with a ball point pen or fountain pen (I still have one or two which I rarely use but sometime use for the novelty of it), my handwriting is all over the place. Generally I have a large—across the entire front of the envelope—style of writing, which calligraphy analysis states is a trait of creativity and determination. Perhaps so. I find, however, that I’m not that determined, especially when it comes to dispensing with or burning these lovely personal handwritten letters.