It's Not Just the Words that Count
Recently, I had the pleasure of taking on a new assignment and reconnecting with an old colleague and friend. Quite literally, reconnecting. We share a desk.
On my first day in the office, I settled in to the cubicle my friend Rhonda occupies on my off days. Her cubicle, I should say. I’m the new kid in town.
My eyes wandered to the inspirational magnets on the filing cabinets, and the reminders tacked on the surrounding posterboard in rainbow colored post-its. I checked out the eclectic stack of trade paperbacks, and the small but efficacious selection of hand-creams. And then, my eyes alighted upon a welcome and familiar sight – a string of words written in a cursive I recognized instantly.
Decades have passed since I was first acquainted with Rhonda’s handwriting, but it was still as familiar to me as my own hand. And in that instant, recognizing her borderline legible scrawl on a bright yellow post-it, I felt… happy. As if just being able to identify someone by their handwriting was enough to make me part of a secret society.
I started to wonder, who else is a part of this community? Whose scrawl – precise or otherwise – am I able to spot, regardless of how much time has passed?
There is my mother’s of course, and my father’s. Children of the greatest generation – and that includes their impeccable penmanship. There was my grandmother’s – pre- and post-arthritis. My brother’s lefty loops, a dear friend’s tiny block letters. Perhaps a few dozen more.
How many handwritten notes, I wonder, would my own children be able to identify? The texting generation may well be in constant contact with their friends, but would they recognize the handwriting of a friend they hear from 20 times a day?
The other night I was sorting through some decades-old family photos, and I stumbled upon a box of correspondence my mother had saved. Letters I sent from sleepaway camp, mother’s day cards, postcards from far-flung destinations. I read my daughter funny lines my father had written home on tissue-thin blue airmail paper. My brother’s consistently brief letters from camp. Would the content have meant as much to me without that familiar handwriting?
Many years ago, a friend of mine told me about a surprise she prepared for her mother. After spending months painstakingly recopying all of her grandmother’s handwritten recipes, she bound them to replace the worn and soiled cookbook her mother used. When she presented her gift, her mother told her she preferred to use her old copy – because it contained her mother’s handwriting. Now that my own mother is gone and my heart skips a beat every time I stumble upon a piece of her writing, I understand completely.
Handwriting is intimate. An emotional trigger. When it is gone, will there be anything to replace it? Will my own children, sorting through boxes of old photos and correspondence one day, even recognize my handwriting?
As it happens, the note I discovered at my new cubicle was addressed to me – a quickly dashed off welcome from my friend. How odd that my brain would focus on identifying the handwriting before registering the words. I peeled off the post-it and stuck it in my notebook. A reminder that it is not just the words that count, but how they are written.