Learning to write: from a chore to loving habit

My mother that taught me to write. I don’t mean technically, that I learned in school with two sets of alphabets boarding the top of our walls. One alphabet was on a cheeky train with animals that illustrated how to write the words. The second alphabet was printed on faux chalkboards illustrating the proper way to print letters. Each one showing the upper- and lower-case letters, 52 letters times two. But my mother taught me how to write.

She would leave cards on the breakfast table, stamped and addressed. “All you have to do is sign your name.” I think this started about the time I could make a sincere attempt at properly signing my name, probably about 7 or 8. The cards would be for different occasions, someone’s birthday, get well soon, or just to an older friend who needed some cheering up. If I didn’t sign my name at breakfast the card would wait for me. Sometimes days at a time. Finally, I would relent, sign my name or write something else as I got a bit older, and then I’d seal the envelope. Before leaving for school I would clip the envelope to the mailbox on our front porch where it would wait for Mr. Smith, our postman to pick it up on his route that day.

At home I have boxes that I have filled over the years, both of letters and cards. I have letters from friends and family dating back almost 30 years. In one of the boxes is the last card I received at boarding school from my grandma just days before she died. I saved the sympathy cards we received from her friends. I have birthday cards and Christmas cards. Each one a mini time capsule. There was a sequence of events that led to each of those cards being in my box. Someone went to the store, looked through a selection, decided which one was best, paid for it, took it home, wrote a note or just signed their name, and mailed it. The ritual is repeated over and over with care and love in each of those little pieces of paper.

My mom was constantly writing to someone. She would carry stationary in her purse or a card for someone whose birthday was coming up. When she had just a couple of moments, she would put it out and write a quick note. Often repeating her famous refrain, “you have to use your time wisely!”

When she died, I packed up her apartment and came home with two medium size boxes of stationary and note cards that she had on the ready. About six weeks after returning home I went to check the mail. I can still remember the bright warm afternoon as I walked out to my mailbox by the road. Then it hit me as I checked the mail that I was never getting a piece of mail from her again. Something that had been a daily occurrence since I left home at 15 was gone. I collapsed and experienced a new grief. I fell to the ground, held onto the post anchoring the mailbox into the earth, and sobbed. IMG_1242.JPG

Our lives now are filled with so much writing, with text. But I still prefer the method that will slow things down, even if just for a moment. Whatever my options for communication at any given moment, I will choose the slower one. Right now, on my dining room table are two stacks of cards. One ready to write and the other stamped and ready to mail back to the States. Each one is an echo of my mom urging an eight-year-old me to write.

2 responses to “Learning to write: from a chore to loving habit

  • Chris

    I don’t know much about your mother, but I suspect that she would be pleased with this recognition of her writing and your love for her. Thank you for sharing it, friend.

    • Elizabeth

      I think she would too. The nice thing is that she and I were in the habit of sending each other cards and notes while she was alive. And I even had a Christmas card list when I was in high school. So, even if we didn’t explicitly have this conversation she was able to see this manifestation of her influence on me from a very early age and I’m glad for that.

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