Sat09202014

The lost art of handwritten letters: Haugh About That?

With venomous eyes, my mother’s gaze locked me into a hypnotic trance. Like a python wrapping its thick body methodically around my neck poised to overtake me, she snarled, “Have you written your thank-you notes yet?”

As a young girl, perfect penmanship and flowery descriptions of gratitude were right up there with impeccable table manners. If it wasn’t done in a timely fashion and to her satisfaction, my life was hell for months to come.

Guiltily, I hung my 7-year-old head in shame and said with a tremor, “No.”

Gripping her candy-apple-red nails around my wrist in white-knuckle fashion, my mother led me to my room. As she pulled out a box of stationery, she icily declared, “You’re not to leave this room until all of them are done. It’s either that or I send all your gifts back.”

Wanting the gifts, I wrote.

For years, I followed her Miss Manners instruction in precise detail – until the day I discovered a lovely little thing known as email. Why let your fingers get all cramped up when typing is so much easier, not to mention cheaper? Then, last year, one magical moment changed my way of thinking when I found a box hidden deep inside our attic.

Opening the golden lid, inside I discovered a stack of letters from a time gone by. Most were written in chicken scratch (boys rarely had good penmanship), but the declarations of young love spoke loud and clear. Poring over them line-by-line, my emotions were mixed with laughter and tears. I giggled over the ones that professed undying devotion, as I remembered that going steady typically lasted only 24 hours. I teared up over ones that would stay, teach me about the woman I was meant to become and then leave as well. Youthful adoration can be painfully fragile.

Carefully replacing the stained pages into the velvet lining, I couldn’t help but think how sad it is that my daughters won’t have this same experience when they turn 61. Their generation is famous for read and delete. Perhaps a handwritten card found its way into their mailbox with a few lines scribbled, but gone are the days of pouring one’s heart and soul onto the pages of thinly lined binder paper.

In generations past, writing to family and friends was the only way to communicate at great length. Making a telephone call was prohibitive. And in those letters, feelings, thoughts and experiences gushed forth, leaving behind a history of two souls and their journey through life together.

Reflecting on what I’d just read, I magically traveled back in time to the girl I once was – the lovestruck 16-year-old mesmerized by the star quarterback; the college co-ed exploring relationships that hung on for more than a month; and the brokenhearted woman sobbing over the five-page breakup of a union that was headed for marriage, promise ring and all.

Covering the lid and moving the box to my closet, it dawned on me that the mailed letter is becoming a lost art, something future generations will only read about on Google. But maybe it’s not too late to turn that around.

We’re embarking on a new year and formulating ideas for change. For me, I plan to put away the computer and take out the stationery when sentimental communication calls for it. In my best cursive, I’ll share memories, express affection and convey to the recipient that in a special moment of time, they made a difference in a life – mine.

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