I bet you have not even tried writing a letter lately. In old-fashioned handwriting that is. Whenever my husband and I travel, we make a point of visiting our relatives, especially some elder cousins in Florida. A few years ago, I decided to send a handwritten thank you note to the individual cousins we socialized with on that trip. In response, when one of the women called me to talk about it, she was almost crying. She was so taken aback by a personal, handwritten note, the likes of which she had not received from anyone in many, many years, that she was moved by the nostalgia. I cannot wait until she gets her mail later this week.
Last summer, we had our kitchen renovated and I stashed my thank you notes somewhere. Eager to get moving on the latest round of thank yous, I picked up some typing paper here at the computer and prepared to handwrite three long letters, not just short notes. Gosh, I cannot remember the last time I actually did this. Well, the result was that after struggling to write two of them, not mentally, but physically, I opted to put off penning the third one for the next day. Lo and behold, it still hurt to write. Those muscles have not been used in the same way since I bought my first computer in 1996. The right side of my hand (I am a righty) ached from the knuckle at the base of my pinky, halfway down to my wrist.
They say history repeats itself. I wonder if the day will come when we will all go back to composing handwritten letters in script. Truthfully, it is not only a lost art, but a loss in general. Genealogists like me especially feel the negative impact of email letters and text messages, which tend to be donated to cyberspace. Clearly, those mounds of various forms of beautifully scripted letters holed up in my attic will make great fodder for a book someday.
The compilation of signatures…a “feel” of relatives long gone, for future generations to learn about their ancestors, is sadly lost to the typewritten name. Lucky for me, I have file cabinets filled with greeting cards showing personal signatures saved from my graduations, engagement, wedding and more. They show the love in the signatures. Nearly 30 years of research additionally unearthed ancestor’s signatures on wills, name changes, and other official documents.
You may laugh because I typed this piece. It was so easy to right click the mouse and come up with synonyms so as not to use the same word twice nearby. The green and red underlines signaled other issues easy enough to resolve. Google was right there to check out any ambiguities. The font, spacing, even the sizes of the letters, everything was perfect. Nice and easy, yes. But, could that be what is missing? There are no scratch-outs or thinking involved in reading the loosely formed words, discussing the spelling and sentence structure. Lacking are the hyphens, the run-on sentences, and the simple beauty in the letters of the alphabet. Heavens, each line stays straight on the page now.
Taking a step back, you could ask, why not just call the person to thank them, or is it not enough to say thank you at the time. Thank you notes after the fact are the proper etiquette I grew up with and passed down to my children. Those old letters and cards may have been more difficult to decipher, but they told a better story. I hope that everyone who reads this article reaches for a piece of paper and writes a letter autographed with a handwritten signature. Maybe we can revitalize an old trend that sadly disappeared without much fanfare. Disclaimer: It may be painful at first.