Write A Letter

Cin’s Feb Challenge Day 11:  Write a letter to a friend and mail it.


All my life I’ve been a writer of letters – the old-fashioned, real-pen-on-real-paper kind that nobody bothers with much anymore.  I have saved random letters written to me, and written by me, and written by old dead relatives, (but don’t worry, they were still alive when they wrote them.)  My sister saved some of the letters I wrote to her when we lived in the NWT, and then she bundled them up and sent them all back to me years later.  I read them and hardly recognized myself.

Now I think it’s time to voluntarily retire myself from this practice partly because it’s becoming a lost art, but mostly because I tend to say some pretty crazy things off the top of my head.  There is no back spacing or cutting and pasting or spell checking with ink on paper.  It’s so much easier to dash off heavily revised e-mails to people and then hope they have the sense to delete them once they’re read.

Way back in the 1950’s and 60’s we were not only taught penmanship, but also proper letter writing skills in school.  I often think it would be nice if kids today learned better e-mailing and chat board and texting skills.  Including things like spelling and grammar and proof reading.  And checking to see what strange things have been auto-corrected before they hit send.

I still remember some of our great lessons in communication back in the day.  You just don’t see stuff like this anymore:

Dear Alice, How are you? I am fine.  What are you up to these days?  Nothing much is going on here…..

and so on, until one or the other of you dies from boredom.

A post card would always be some variation of these sentiments:

Dear Alice, greetings from Timbuktu, having a great time, wish you were here. 

With a lot of exclamation marks.  Never mind if you don’t really mean any of it, the important thing is to be polite and vague.

Okay, it is possible that I missed a few classes.

For the past couple of weeks I’ve been watching “The Good Wife” on Netflix and if I’ve learned anything at all from this series it’s that things you are foolish enough to write down on paper can be taken out of context and used against you in a court of law, and that important pieces of police reports are always going mysteriously missing.  The same thing happens with letters.  If you make a statement on one page and explain it on the next, you had better hope that second page stays with the first.  Or future generations will be questioning your intelligence and/or sanity.

The picture above is of the pages of a letter I wrote to my sister from Cambridge Bay in January of 1976.  It states quite clearly that I have stopped wearing my wedding ring because I am thinking of having an affair.

See, you can say shit like that to your sister and she will get the joke and maybe even think it’s funny.  Because she knows you are living in a climate so dark and cold that the only reason you leave your house is for groceries and even then you think long and hard about it.  She knows you have an incredibly active little 17 month old daughter who wears you right out.  And most importantly she knows that you are eight months pregnant and therefore not in your right mind. The next page goes on to explain about puffiness and swelling in my hands and feet and having to grease my fingers to pry the ring off before it cut off my circulation.  No one looks good with a blue ring finger.

But what if that second page got lost?  Oh well, I did say I was only thinking about it.  It’s not likely that I’d send out announcements if it actually happened.

The only other vaguely interesting thing I wrote in that letter was that my daughter liked to wander into the baby’s room, grab hold of the bars on the crib and screech at the top of her lungs while shaking it as hard as she could.  I should have put a stop to this behaviour before her brother was born, but I didn’t.  So if he reads this letter he will know that my daughter and I are responsible for his disrupted sleep patterns if he has any.

See the kind of trouble you can get yourself into?  So I will not be writing a letter to a friend today or quite possibly ever again.  The notes and lists I scribble and leave all over the place will be enough to keep any hoarder descendants I might have deep in thought for a long time.

Or they could just have a big bonfire.  That would also be fine.

Compositions Circa 1928 (Part One)

I have a scribbler that belonged to my mother in 1928 in which she wrote stories for English Composition.  She would have been eleven years old.  They are done with a fountain pen, or with a pencil, or sometimes with a combination of both.  The pencil lead broke, the inkwell went dry – who knows.  The penmanship is sometimes exquisite, and sometimes a hurriedly scrawled mess with a careless spelling mistake or two.  I think these must have been assigned subjects, because some of them are less enthusiastically done than others.  No matter.   I’m just thrilled to be able to get a small glimpse of the child my mother used to be.

A Tramp In The Woods

“This is a very good year for nuts, isn’t it Marguerite?”  I asked one fine October morning.  “Let’s go to the bush after Saturday’s work is done.”  This was agreed to at once.

The Saturday’s work was done in a few hours.  And away we went after making up a small lunch.

The leaves were very pretty.  “If we would stand still or even sit here for awhile we would be covered in leaves,” I happened to say.  “Indeed we would”, said Marguerite.

We saw very many small animals and at last caught a small white rabiit that was lame.  It was a very nice pet.  After lunch we visited the Maple Syrup Camp, an old cave, and an owl’s home.

At last we were on our way home with the rabbit.  We were all as hungry as bears.  But as happy as larks.


A Tramp Coming To Our Home

One fine summer afternoon mother asked me to stay at home while she went to town.  I said I would.  As my favourite pastime was reading, I sat behind the table and read a very interesting book called “Edna’s Escape”.  In a little while I heard a rap at the door.  It made me shiver for I had been reading about the awful time Edna had been having.  All I could do was to go to the door and this I dreaded.  But at last I gained courage and went.

There in front of me was an ugly tramp.  Mother often said that tramps are dangerous.  I made up my mind to take no chances.  “Well my girl, you are a regular housekeeper.  What are you going to do when you are big?” the tramp began.

“Well I don’t think that’s for me to tell”  I said.  The tramp frowned at me.  “But what do you want?” I said.

“A match, a piece of bread, and any other things you have”, said the tramp.  “What do you want with all these things?”  said I.  “I want the match to light my pipe, and the bread to eat, of course”  “But where is your pipe?” I said.  The tramp turned and walked to the other side of the door and then he said “Get me the bread.  Then I will tell.”  I went and got a loaf of bread.  He smacked his lips and said “Give it to me.”  I gave it to him.  He turned around very quickly and said as he went away “I’ve got the bread now.  I’ll come back for the matches another day.”  He then disappeared down the lane.

I thought he had played a good trick on me.  I never saw him again, nor he never came back for his matches.

Margaret Elaine Scott, 1928.

Paper Vs Digital

I fear the laborious task of creating handwritten notes is becoming a lost art. Penmanship used to be such an important part of early education where little fingers with big fat pencils practiced making perfect loopy tails all slanted in the same direction. (And if you couldn’t do that you were urged to consider becoming a doctor where illegible scrawl was the norm, or a pharmacist highly skilled in interpreting all kinds of erratic scribbling.)

We used to write personal little thank you notes, birthday wishes, congratulations, holiday hellos, sent by snail mail, often with photos enclosed. Now we zip off e-mails with attachments. Or send a text message, or post it on Facebook. It’s easier, and it takes less time. But it’s somehow less personal too.

You’d think the list making queen would get a clue and start using the Notes app on her I-Phone instead of doodling on scraps of paper and then wondering where they went. But old habits die-hard. I am also a stationery junkie. I dearly love my gel pens and fancy note pads that have a magnet glued to the back so they can be stuck up on the fridge. Of course they’re never actually there because I take them somewhere else to write on them and then they have this weird habit of going missing.

I also have spiral bound notebooks where I keep important passwords and numbers and ID’s that have mysteriously vacated my brain. I’ve been smart enough to keep these more or less in the same place, by my computer, because they’re completely useless anywhere else. And hopefully completely useless if somebody picked them up and leafed through them because I’ve been cunningly cryptic about what all these doodles mean. (Considering that my son figured out my password and W’s for both our laptops in under 30 seconds, perhaps we’re not as enigmatic as we think.)

Handwritten journals and diaries are now blogs. It’s so much faster to type than to write. More legible. Fewer spelling errors. No erasers or scratching out involved. Thesaurus and Dictionary and Google and Wikipedia at your fingertips. No burning of incriminating evidence required. Just hit the delete button and it’s all magically gone.

Pen and paper was my first love though. I don’t want to completely give up on notes. We don’t have electronic files at work and still record patient files on paper and put them in neatly labeled file folders. Often my writing looks like hell. (I guess I should have been a doctor.) When I take my time it can be beautiful, even if what I’m writing down isn’t so much. “Warned patient to reduce contact lens wearing time” (WD PT < CL WT) written in sky blue gel pen in fat little capital letters. Because I’m a big fan of short forms. Like PITA which you would not like to see on your file if you knew it meant pain in the ass.

Well I’m not going to let you in on any more of my record keeping secrets. What was the question again? Oh yeah – I suppose I prefer my keyboard for most things. If I’d tried to hand write this entire post it probably would have killed me, never mind that I’d still be writing it at midnight tonight. Digital is the way to go if you want quantity and speed. And accuracy. Even doctors have realized this and now their prescriptions are zipped electronically up to the front desk to be printed and picked up on the way out. Pharmacists have either sighed with relief or cursed how boring their jobs have become.

I think it will be a very sad day when post-it notes go digital. Not sure how that will happen but I assume it’s only a matter of time. Sticky notes and a liquid ink pen can keep me happily occupied for a long time. Electronic doodles are going to take over soon enough. Brush up on that scribbling and graffiti before it goes the way of the cave drawing and we all forget what the point was and why it was so much fun.

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