This day started out rather dreary – a touch of fog and misty, but it was so balmy when I went out to walk that I ended up shucking my coat and hat before I got home. I didn’t stray far as it looked as if it would pour again any minute. I cannot believe a week ago we were suffering with the brutal and blustery weather and the overnight snow that put a kibosh on my Thanksgiving morning pilgrimage to the Park.
Tonight I have been writing letters to tuck into Christmas cards. The letters I’ve been penning are to my mom’s friends who do not own or use a computer. You never realize how long it takes to convey your thoughts when you put pen to paper as opposed to just zipping along as you type on your computer. In this age of social media, it is so easy to click “reply” or “compose” to e-mail and keep current with our friends. Facebook makes it so easy to chat and share past and present pictures, so who wants to go back to that old snail mail and make it harder on ourselves? We certainly are a spoiled bunch aren’t we? Now we know why the U.S. Postal Service is in big trouble.
I started to just type these two letters, then decided it is my once-a-year chance to practice my penmanship since birthday cards just get a note on the blank part opposite the verse. My mom did not use e-mail and wrote very few letters as she kept up with most of her friends via the telephone. But the exception to that rule was always the annual lengthy letters to her Canadian friends. She had pretty handwriting and it was especially evident when she wrote out the Christmas cards with her fountain pen. As a youngster I remember watching my mom filling her fountain pen, a present she received when she completed business school. It was a whole process before the actual letter-writing began. She stood at the kitchen counter, where several layers of paper towels and tissues were laid down to protect the cream-colored Formica. On top would be the pen, a pump and the ink well and she’d fill it full of cobalt-blue ink, being very careful not to spill a drop of it. After capping the bottle, she had a soft flannel cloth to catch the drips from the nib before tipping the pen down and gliding it across the paper. On each envelope, she’d add a little flourish in the corner, like a sprig of holly and the other corner got a Christmas Seal. Years later, while walking through Michaels craft store, recalling how nice the lettering on the addresses looked by using the fountain pen, on a whim I bought a calligraphy set with a how-to book, intending this to be a “Winter project”. The package still sits in the basement – perhaps a project for when I am retired. I think the art of writing a letter longhand is long gone. I have several boxes of stationery that have been around the house for decades. Every Christmas, a paper vendor at the first law firm I worked gave boxed stationery to each support staff as a year-end thank you. But, most of the time I grab a plain sheet of paper from the printer. I just use a Bic Stic pen, so nothing ornate about my writing utensil, nor my penmanship. When I started working at the diner I had fairly nice handwriting. My boss suggested I try to commit the orders to memory, rather than writing them down, since I could take more orders instead of improving my penmanship. He suggested that customers, after all, only had so long for their lunch hour. I smile now thinking about him telling me this, since it was said tongue-in-cheek and was certainly not hurtful. I thought the world of Erdie who was more like a grandfather to me than a boss. So, from that moment on, I remembered each customer’s order without aid of pen nor pad, and called it out to the cook immediately. I only wrote out the items they ordered on the bill if they were not “regulars”, otherwise I’d just put the total on the bill. I certainly wasn’t extraordinary in my memorization skills – most customers ordered the exact same meal every visit to Carter’s. For years after I left the diner I’d see a customer at the mall and could recall with great specificity what their favorite diner items were and I’d rattle off their order to them: “Coke-no ice, two cheeseburgers with and a side of fries” … which, while certainly is not too notable on a résumé, it sure brought a smile to their face.