Let’s say it together– The Pen is Prettier Than the Sword
Wisdom would have it that the pen is mightier than sword– but admit it–it is a whole lot prettier too. At least it was in my grandmother’s day. Even though she has been gone for a long while, I can still look through my card box (an old sewing basket) and I know her writing at a glance. It is as perfect and meticulous as the seams of the silk blouses she sewed by hand.
I know my Grandpa Long’s handwriting too. He had a bold style, a calligraphy-type of hand leftover from his days of painting signs and windows for stores and sandwich boards. Those birthday cards were a sign of love because he took over the job of writing in them for himself, making sure that they were as beautiful as they could be. Far less happy, but no less important, I have the letter written by my great-grandfather before he committed suicide. His handwriting clearly betrayed his state of mind and I can feel his pain and anger when I look at the fading ink, a powerful message from a man who died before I was born. He also was sentimental and kept every card he ever received. He– though gone before I lived– is responsible for my love of vintage cards.
Alas! How little mystery there is in tidy typesetting of a book, or a text message on the screen. Electronic signatures have their place in business, but there is no pleasure in gazing at an author’s or artist’s online signature and guessing what their scribbles or broad flourishes might say about them. There are more memories– quiet, loving, joyful and somber– in picking up and reading those scraps of writing left by those who have gone before. They are something physical to remind me of the repository of memories they left me.
Here is the family tree my Grandpa Mac drew out when I needed some family history for an assignment in junior high. Later he would help write a book of McAdams family history called The Sons of Adam. This yellowed paper and ball-point pen is not so dashing as Grandpa Long’s painted signs, nor as delicate and flowery as Grandma Mac’s letters, but it brings him back to me.
This bit of cursive nostalgia makes me think The Coin by Sara Teasdale.
Into my heart’s treasury
I slipped a coin
That time cannot take
Nor a thief purloin, —
Oh better than the minting
Of a gold-crowned king
Is the safe-kept memory
Of a lovely thing.
These bits of paper are my safe-kept memories of my family’s love.