Buried deep in my closet sits a battered old box. It’s filled with childhood birthday cards, notes of condolence and congratulations, love letters from the man who would become my husband, and maybe one or two from the man who would not. There’s an apricot
chiffon pie recipe from my grandmother in that box, along with a reminder that “baking soda cleans everything.” There are also a third-grade report card forshadowing a lifetime of math issues, and a dashed-off note from an editor explaining that he was about to jump on a plane headed for Martha’s Vineyard, and would call on Monday—but his plane crashed into the Atlantic Ocean that evening, and Monday never came.
There are calligraphic wedding invitations and engraved birth announcements in this box, halfwritten poems on scraps of whatever was within reach when inspiration hit, and a hastily scribbled thought that would become the basis for my last book.
Near the bottom of the box, stacked together and tied with an ancient piece of yarn, are my friend Brenda’s hilariously heartbreaking letters, from summer after summer at sleep-away camp. Brenda and I were close 45 years ago, and we’re still close today. The box also holds a yellow legalpad containing snippets of conversation from when my friend Mark lay in a hospital bed, intubated and unable to speak. “Is Roseanne on tonight?” His once precise writing was shaky, but I always managed to decipher it. “In another half hour,” I’d answer. “You look tired. Close eyes?” he’d write. And I would curl up next to him for a power nap that, if I’m being honest here, never left me feeling particularly powerful.
I stare at each piece of paper now and skim their words with my fingertip. My father’s signature was authoritative; I used to try to make my capital K look as confident as his. My mother’s writing was delicate, more subtle. As a child, my left-handed grandmother was forced to use her right hand—schools did that in those days—and her writing was atrocious as a result.
My third grade teacher’s lettering was perfection, even if her math lessons left a lot to be desired. Brenda dotted her i’s and crossed her t’s like the good girl she was raised to be. My editor wrote with fat, loopy, graceful letters—he was a graceful man. My husband, an artist, wrote in gorgeous flourishes and charming doodles; if he was trying to impress me, it more than worked. My friend Mark? His writing, like his body, was disintegrating before my eyes. AIDS was savaging beautiful young men in the early ’90s, and it killed him about five weeks after our slew of mundane exchanges.
No wonder, then, that his scrawled small talk continues to mean the world to me. I put the lid back on the beat-up box and banish it to the land of old board games, broken DVD players, macramé headbands, and half a dozen pairs of nude panty hose, which Vogue has deemed obsolete. My Wolfords are not the only things that seem to be irrelevant now.
We catch the sound bite, not the speech; we read the reviews, not the novel; we slice pre-packaged cookie dough into coins; and we gulp coffee from Styrofoam cups.
It is only an intense fear of sounding like my uncle Saul, who constantly insists that in 1958 he could’ve bought “the entire Upper West Side of Manhattan for 240 bucks,” that keeps me from going on.
Suffice it to say, I miss pay phones and gluten and the smell of Tame Creme Rinse. A tweet is not a conversation. Facebook will never replace eye contact. Email doesn’t compare to the romance of thick vanilla card stock covered in cursive.
The notes, the report cards, the recipes, the scraps and poems and promises to talk on Monday, the gossip from camp, the perseverance of a friend who died much too young, all had one thing in common—they were written in cursive.
Policy makers say kids needn’t bother to learn cursive any more than they should offer people a penny for their thoughts—as it won’t be long before pennies are also things of the past, like bumble bees and Harry Styles. But I’m going to miss cursive, because cursive is that place where art and language intersect, and because how you form your words says almost as much as the words themselves, and because handwriting tells us something about who the person holding the pen really is, and mostly because it’s beautiful.
Ever read the Declaration of Independence in a word doc? I rest my case.
We asked readers of the Almanac to send in some of their own scripted treasures. Take a look at some of our favorites…from a REAL mail bag: