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When Penmanship Mattered

When Penmanship Mattered

Back in December I had a dinner party. One of the guests noticed my large punch bowl that was filled with Christmas balls and other shiny baubles.

“That’s gorgeous!” she exclaimed, moving in closer to examine the cut glass.

“Estate sale,” I replied. 

Yep, I’m what’s known as a “blurter.”

What I didn’t blurt was the price. Less than 50 bucks, if memory serves.

Those of us who didn’t come from families with good silver, china and opulent punch bowls have to buy our own heirlooms. I scavenge mine from other peoples’ estates when the owners are downsizing, headed to nursing homes or have moved on to that gated community in the sky.

I once heard a woman sniff that an acquaintance of hers was, “The sort of person who has to buy her own silver.”

I laughed because, hey, that’s me.

Which is how I came to be browsing through the former home of a Virginia Beach artist this past weekend. Art aficionados - which I most certainly am not - were swooning over sketches, canvases and frames belonging to this much-loved artist who no longer lives there. But I was drawn to her magnificent collection of art books. Thousands of dollars worth of hard-bound tomes about art and drawing were piled everywhere it seemed.

The thing about old books is that they often contain more than just pages. Sometimes pressed flowers or photos. Or something better.

I flipped through one on Himalayan art and tucked inside was a yellowed newspaper clipping of a wedding and a letter - a note, really - in graceful, faded penmanship. 

I felt a little guilty reading it. Heck, I always feel a little strange just wandering through houses of people I don’t know, coolly inspecting their belongings. Then again, I know the day will come when people I don’t know will amble through my house, whisper about my bad taste and ask if the dealers would take 10 bucks for one of my beloved old typewriters or five for my punch bowl.

Maybe it was wrong to read a letter never intended for me. But it wasn’t in an envelope. And I was struck by what was contained on that single page.

The letter was a sweet message to a brother, thanking him for his attendance at a wedding, remarking that he and his wife were the most attractive people there and praising his elegant toast to the newlyweds.

You could feel the affection, the gratitude, the happiness. 

I suspect that today, such a simple thank you would be handled by email. Or worse, a text message. 

Thx for coming. Ur toast was the bomb. XO

Seems to me when members of a society stop writing letters to each other they lose something. I think of my mother’s trove of love letters from my father during World War II. I unearthed them in our attic when I was a teenager, untied the fragile green ribbon that bound them and read every one, much to my mother’s horror. That’s where I learned that she dropped out of high school to support her mom. 

When my mother died I searched everywhere in the old house but the letters had vanished. I believe she burned them. Why not. They were never meant for anyone else’s eyes.

I thought about buying the Himalayan art book, just to get the letter, but decided to leave it there for someone else to find.

My New Year’s resolution was to write more notes. On paper. By hand.

So far, haven’t penned a single one. I’ll report back in December.

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