A couple of my friends are participating in the “A Month of Letters” challenge. I considered joining and then wondered if I really had that much to say. Would I be copy/pasting with pen and paper? I will be participating by responding to any letters I receive after all I actually buy and use stationery and pens. Not everyone does anymore. Letter writing appears to be a lost art.
My grandmother was my last pen pal. She was a teacher many years ago in Puerto Rico and always had the most elegant handwriting. When they came to New York City in 1951, the only job she could get was at the lunch counter at Woolworth’s. So she reserved her teaching skills for Sunday school classes at the United Church, on Prospect Place in the Bronx.
My letters to her always began with “Querida Abuela”, although my heart called her Guelita. There were anecdotes about school and family vacations. As time went on, there were updates on my children and on my career. Of course many letters were accompanied by pictures, after all she was back in Puerto Rico and couldn’t see my children, her great-grandchildren, on a regular basis. Her letters to me were about my grandfather and my cousins. She wrote about the weather, how she was feeling, and how things were going at her church. She never signed her letters as Abuela or Guelita. Just a simple, Ernestina. Oh, how I attempted to copy that elegant “E” that we shared in our names (I never did master that little loop of hers).
When my youngest child was born, we made a trip to the island to visit her and my grandfather. We did not make a great deal of money, but this trip was important to all of us and it only increased the number of letters that passed back and forth. That physical reconnection just added to the importance of our relationship; after all, we were once part of a multi-generational household. My grandparents lived with us (us being my parents, sister, and me) back in the 1960s Bronx.
If I found myself too busy as a young, working mother and wife to respond in a sensible (by her standards) period of time, I would find an envelope in my mail box, with that very elegant script on the outside. Once I opened the envelope, I would find a sheet of paper. A blank sheet of paper. It was her way of reminding me that I owed her a letter. Sometimes I used that same sheet of paper to write back to her, other times I would go out, buy a card and enclose a letter in that card.
Birthdays were never forgotten, I swear that woman had a computer in her brain. Exactly one day before your birthday, you would receive a card with your name in that elegant script. When you opened the card, out would fall a piece of tinfoil, inside the tinfoil was a crisp five dollar bill. Every year. No matter how old you were.
My beloved grandmother left this Earth in 1989, taking a piece of my heart with her. In her Bible, was a photograph I sent her. Many years later I was cleaning out drawers, in my bureau, and came across a birthday card. Inside the card was that tinfoil.
I think I may pick up a pen this month and write a few more letters than I thought I would. Finding your name on an envelope, that doesn’t have a window, is just special. And I think I need some work on my handwriting. It’s never too late to strive for elegance.