A lost art

This story appears in the See for Yourself feature series. View the full series.

by Nancy Linenkugel


View Author Profile

The beautiful longhand with its display-card-quality perfect shaping of the letters belied her years of teaching the primary grades. I, for one, remember vividly the penmanship classes in grade school several times a week.

While my mailbox yielded a few items, making it a worthwhile trip today, the usual contents of bills, advertisements and catalogues gave way to a real, honest-to-goodness handwritten letter from a longtime and dear friend.

I dutifully slit open everything but push that all aside except for the special letter from Joan. She remembers my birthday, Christmas, Easter, and many days in between. Always. She never forgets. And when I see her characteristic and neatly written envelope with the formal curlicue capital "S" and "N" and "L," I know this letter will be a treat. Nobody fills up two sheets of paper enclosed in the card like Joan does. And her perfect penmanship throughout is a beauty to behold.

I try my best to reciprocate by remembering her birthday. It occurs at the end of summer, but it seems that activities sweep me along such that I'm sending her a card way after the fact. I think belated cards for birthdays were invented by greeting-card manufacturers for whom purchasing and sending a card is never too late.

Once, I was over a month late and suggested to Joan that my card could be her first greeting for her next birthday in 11 months. Since we don't live in the same city and thus never see each other, I have no idea what she thought of such logic. Likely because she knows me well, she just chalks it up to "this is how it's going to be."

Life flies along and it's no wonder we lose track of birthdays arriving rapidly. There's a joke about a turtle being run over by a pack of snails. The police come to take the turtle's statement, which was, "Gee, officer, I couldn't tell you too much — it all happened so fast."

Timing aside, after reading Joan's card and enclosed letter, I hold it in my hands and just gaze at the art before me. My first thought is to send her an email to let her know I received her letter. I can type so much faster than I can handwrite, so what I'd send to Joan would be long and detailed and newsy. And it would be in her email inbox as soon as I hit "send," which would be instantaneous compared to a couple of days' time for posted mail delivery.

Expediency aside, sending an email wouldn't be good. Anybody can send emails. Who makes time anymore to send artistic letters written by hand? Since I'm one of the fortunate ones from yesteryear who learned handwriting in grade school, I need to use that skill. And I do so happily. Hmmm, let's see  ... paper ... pen ... envelope ... address ... stamp ... I think I'll do it tomorrow ...

[Nancy Linenkugel is a Sylvania Franciscan sister and chair of the department of Health Services Administration at Xavier University, Cincinnati.]