May 202011

The death of an aunt back in the UK has brought a sad end to an activity I have engaged in for nearly 50 years, namely letter writing.

My first written letters as a child were to distant relatives, of which my aunt was one, thanking them for Christmas and birthday presents.

I grew up with handwriting. It wasn’t until I reached the age of 21 that I first used a mechanical device to record the written word – an Olivetti portable typewriter. I later graduated to a Brother electronic typewriter with a word processor facility.

In 1994, I bought my first Apple Mac computer, a G3, and handwritten letters became few and far between. And then came the Internet and e-mail.

Since moving to America, the only handwritten letters I wrote were to my father and my aunt. Both were too elderly to embrace the technology of computers.

I corresponded every three weeks or so with my father; twice a year with my aunt – birthday and Christmas time. It was an arduous task, not in terms of finding things to write about, just the sheer mechanical act of writing. After 30 minutes or so my fingers would begin to ache, necessitating a break that sometimes interrupted the flow of the letter. I would then spend time trying to pick up the thread of my thoughts.

Another problem was that my brain always seemed to be about three words ahead of my hand, which often resulted in illegible words or a word in the wrong place. Not one for sending letters with words crossed out, I would start that page again on a fresh piece of paper.

Basically, what I could have effortlessly accomplished on the computer, writing an e-mail, took me three or four times as long in a handwritten letter.

People used to say to me, “Why not write the letter on the computer and print it off?” For me a typewritten letter is the kind of thing one receives from the bank or some other business entity. These letters were personal and I liked to retain the personal touch.

My father died in March and, with the passing of my aunt, I can now hang up my 30-year-old Sheaffer fountain pen for good. Writing with a ball-point pen, or Biro as we British would say, was never an option — my handwriting turns into an unreadable scrawl. The fountain pen enabled me to cling on to the last vestiges of legibility. There is no point in spending all that time and effort on writing a letter if the person receiving it cannot make out what is written.

Handwriting will now be relegated to jotting the odd note or two on the notepad I keep in front of the computer screen, usually the price of some camera that I cannot afford or its specifications as compared to a similar camera. But in the days of cut and paste, even these notes are becoming fewer.

I suppose I can say that I am doing my bit to protect the environment by reducing the need for paper.

Have a good weekend, y’all! I hope it contains the sentiments of this message I saw this morning on an object outside a junk antique shop on Park Street, Riverside, Jacksonville. The image was captured with my Ricoh GRD III.

©Calvin Palmer 2011. All Rights Reserved.