Resuscitating Writing: Letters from Me to Grandpa
February 10, 2011 § 6 Comments
Today’s post is written by Christine Bottles, from Bottles Forever.
I always thought everyone had a shoebox full of letters. Or a plastic box, or a secret drawer, or something. But apparently, today’s equivalent of a shoebox full of letters is a folder full of special texts like “ilu. imu. Cant w8 2C u l8r!!!!!!!!!!!”
The art of writing is drowning in the ocean of informality, instant gratification, and convenience that floods our lives. People simply don’t utilize or appreciate good writing anymore. And I don’t think it’s the media’s fault, or technology’s fault, or the President’s fault, or any of the other usual recipients of our blame. I think it’s our fault as humans living in our current society.People influence us more than any other factor, you know, especially our close family and friends. And my love for writing is firmly rooted in my relationship with a very special person: my late Grandpa.
Grandma and Grandpa lived 1300 miles from me when I was a kid. Whoever says you need Facebook and cell phones to make long distance relationships work didn’t know my grandparents. Grandma sent monthly boxes of goodies that always smelled faintly of mothballs. Grandpa sent letters, usually typed, always dated and with a proper salutation: “Dear Christine my Queen.”
Because of Grandpa, I came to love writing not just as a method of childish catharsis or a way to track my daily events. Writing grew into my preferred and cherished method of communication. I’d read Grandpa’s retellings of how he met my Grandma, or his recollection of a certain Palm Sunday from his childhood, and I’d know that I had just snatched a glimpse into his truly epic life. Even as a skinny, snot-nosed elementary school kid, I wanted to be able to write like my Grandpa. My mom told me that Grandpa wrote letters to all sorts of important people and sometimes received letters back (we’re still looking for a letter baseball player Jackie Robinson sent to Grandpa, who wrote to encourage Robinson after he received a bunch of nasty, racist letters). He also wrote to (and for) numerous magazines and newspapers. Here’s something he wrote about a year before he passed away: ‘National’ tag doesn’t apply to college football. People listened to him and published his writings because he knew the art of strong writing, had worthwhile ideas to communicate, and wrote about what he knew.
Of course, as a child, I wasn’t aware of much of his celebrity connections, often made through a well-composed, thoughtful letter. He was just my Grandpa, the one with the wiry white beard I tugged on as a toddler, the one who retained his love for the Yankees until the day he died, despite moving to Texas as a young adult. I knew him through his letters, and he knew me, too. He caught my spelling mistakes and corrected them. I’ll never forget reading this in a letter from Grandpa: “I didn’t know I had a ‘grandaughter,’ but I know I have a ‘granddaughter.’” I never misspelled “granddaughter” again, ever. One time he commented on my sloppy, crooked handwriting. So, I’d spend hours making sure my letters (often sent in blank, unlined cards with pictures of cats on the outside) were neat and legible. I wanted to learn to write like him, and I wanted to make him proud.
Some people might think he was too harsh on me as a kid, that he should’ve just let me misspell words and write in illegible childish chicken scratch. But I know better. We understood each other through our writings, and he taught me how to create descriptive, concise, intelligent, grammatically correct writing, something I know now that few people have learned to do. He corrected me because he cared about me.
Even though Grandpa made me a sort of stickler for grammar, spelling, and punctuation, I think once you’ve mastered good writing, it’s ok to deviate from the accepted norms in appropriate situations. When I’m texting or writing a message on Facebook, I don’t always capitalize. When I’m writing a blog (like this one), I sometimes start sentences with coordinating conjunctions (especially “and” and “but”). When I’m writing a formal paper for a professor, however, I never do that. Ever.Unless I want a big, red question mark and a deduction of points.(See, that last sentence was actually not an independent clause).
Some people, especially my students, try to tell me that because of the way our culture is nowadays grammar doesn’t matter, punctuation doesn’t matter, spelling doesn’t matter, and so on. I disagree. They DO matter. They help you communicate more purposefully and clearly with others. Thanks, Grandpa, for teaching me this because you wrote to me.
Because Grandpa wrote, I was able to write this poem and share it at his funeral in the spring of 2007. It’s just a tribute to a man who taught me the importance of penning words on a page and letting your personality and beliefs bleed in the ink. It’s just word, the less distinguished reader might think. But really, it’s a piece of me, a glimpse of my heart, and a purposefully crafted work of art.
You Wrote On November 8, 2004 You wrote Through your letters, we walked New York's streets Hand in hand Sharing secret passions for life We wrote back and forth. On November 18, 2005 You wrote A letter laced with love Wisdom intertwined We wrote back and forth. On April 22, 2006 You wrote My mailbox had gathered dust You explained that I was not forgotten And I was reassured You never forgot a birthday or holiday I knew I was loved This time, you wrote of angels And I wept "Christine, my queen. Your sweet voice stirs the butterflies of my heart." So I wrote you back. On March 12, 2007 You wrote Black scribble bled through lined yellow parchment Despite this, brilliance peeked through illegible chicken scratch I deciphered: "I love you very much." Then, at the end: "It grows dark." This was the last thing You wrote Because you loved me, you wrote Because you wrote, you live Cherished memories, secret thoughts In a sacred shoebox in my closet is everything You wrote
Hey, you: if you’re still reading, go write. Create your own shoebox of letters, to yourself, to others, to nobody at all. And if you’re feeling gutsy, send a letter, so someone else can put it in his or her shoebox. You never know the difference you could make if you’d just write.