Sunday, March 14, 2010

Love in Pale Pink Post-It

My grandmother, Charlene Turner, is a wonderful writer. Her skill, creativity, and sly humor can be seen in her senior yearbook (she was the typist for the Marrowbone High School annual, but she also penned several of the articles - including her Salutatorian message - go Mama) as well as in the handwritten notes she regularly mails to her grandchildren now, some sixty years later. Sure, I appreciate the coupons for dog treats and the "spending money" with which she includes to personalize mine, but it is her words, and the genuine love that inspires them, that remind me how lucky I am.

One of the things I adore most about Mama's notes is that they are typically a discussion of the everyday. She tells me about going to get her hair cut at Phyllis' or about my uncle coming in for a visit or the work she did in her yard that week. Mama isn't saving the world in her letters or in the post-it notes she includes with every gift given (at Christmas, she often wraps even small things individually and includes a post-it about how she just couldn't pass up such a good deal or recommendations for what we should use it for or wear it with). But what Mama is doing in these seemingly mundane gestures is confirming those qualities that anyone who has ever met her must associate: she is unequivocally thoughtful, kind without motive, a willing participant in Turner foolishness, and just simply lovely.

An example:
I received an Applejack Art Partners card from Mama a few weeks ago (proceeds to the Humane Society): There are five dogs on the front, 2 Dalmatians in a red wagon, one black and brown beagle, and two light brown retrievers, one with shoe in mouth. She had taken a pen and written "Willie" on the beagle (Willie's coloring matches this pup almost exactly), "Lucy" on one of the light brown dogs whose sweet face does remind my of Lucy's, and "Tucker" (the name of my parents' Yorkie-poo) on the one with the shoe in mouth (Tucker likes to take Jackie's flip flops - primarily to provoke the Jackie and Tucker really loud, clapping hands chase game). On the two in the wagon, Mama had written "friends." The inside message read: "Hon, a little gas money. Love, Mama"

This card didn't take all day to write, nor did it relay some profound message. It simply made me happy. And this is one of the many reasons that a handwritten note is so special. It reflects an understanding and appreciation of the other person; it is not a facebook blurb that often is said to show one's own humor or opinion; it is not an email that has been written, deleted, rewritten, saved, and then finally sent; it is not a "narcissistic and self-serving" blog entry of one's musings and activities (oh, the irony). Handwritten notes instead seem to be the most heartfelt, the most honest, the most unassuming means of communication. Mama is not writing with ulterior motive or to provoke a "thank you"; Mama is writing because she loves her grandchildren. The real beauty in this though, is that without intention, she does inspire a sense of gratefulness. I love reaching into my mailbox and seeing her handwriting on a typically brightly-colored envelope (that is sometimes sealed with a cute sticker). I enjoy hearing about the goings-on in Waterview, Marrowbone, and Burkesville. I am thankful for the sense of home, and place, and belonging that is reflected in these letters.

About a year ago I found a book on sale at Joseph Beth that you all might want to check out: The Art of the Handwritten Note: A Guide to Reclaiming Civilized Communication by Margaret Shepard.
Here is an excerpt from the introduction.
"But the handwritten note has an intrinsic value beyond its rarity. It's not just an antiquarian curiosity, it's an extremely useful tool. It upgrades a wide variety of messages, transforming "oops" into "Please accept my apology," and "Got the money" into "Thank you for your generosity." Ink on paper is still the classiest way to express the thoughts that really matter, on the occasions that really count. And sometimes it is the only way; your words will carry sympathy and gratitude with a special kind of sincerity when your reader sees them on paper in your writing.
Corresponding on paper lets you elevate the simple pleasure into an art form. And art has always survived technology. A handwritten note is like dining by candlelight instead of flicking on the lights, like making a gift instead of ordering a product, like taking a walk instead of driving. Handwritten notes will add a lot to your life. You can still use the telephone or the Web for the daily chores of staying in touch, but for the words that matter, it's courteous, classy, caring, and civilized to pick up a pen."

Referencing the blog entry a few days ago, I don't want to be a snob and act like I sit around writing letters to everyone I need to contact. Emailing is useful and facebook is fun. I do think, however, that I should hold higher expectations for myself; I should want those who I care about to feel the way I feel when I reach into PO Box 1021 and see Charlene Turner's writing. Maybe on this rather dreary Sunday, we could all put a hand-written post-it note message on someone's computer screen, draw a picture for someone's refrigerator, or take the time to write a letter (after the UK game of course) to someone we love.

* I would love to hear bits and pieces from your own favorite notes or letters. I think it would bring a lot of joy to the thousands of people reading.*


  1. There is just something so special about a handwritten note. My nine old sister always has some sort of note or picture for me every time I come home and they always put a smile on my face.

    The most recent one:
    10 Reasons That You are Special:
    1. You are sweet
    2. You are active
    3. You are smart and get good grades
    ...and my favorite...
    10. We love each other very much.

    The awkward third grader hand writing makes it that much more darling.

  2. First, a big "awwwww..." to Alexus's comment. Second, my personal favorite note was on my 23rd birthday. My great-grandmother, who was 97 at the time, sent me a card that had little aphorisms scrawled all over the inside, sideways, upside-down, you name it. Some of them were probably only relevant in the 1940s, but the card pretty much summed up how neat of a lady she is. Kept that one.

  3. I loved your comment, Alexus. I have a sister who is nine years younger and I kept a few "letters" she sent to me when I was in college. Alhough I never received a "top ten" list, I love them nonetheless. I'm so glad you included this...makes me want to do a list for a few people.
    Oh, and Flashdance sweatshirt = one, great handwritten letter. :)

    No sarcasm this time, Stephen. Your comment was so sweet. You had this in the office one day, right? Did you send her a reply note?

    Okay, I have to share another. This was from Caroline, best friend, genuine/hilarious/fantastic person, and a wonderful writer:
    "And you never, ever have to apologize for our doing everyday things. I do wish we lived close to one another so that we could go for Saturday a.m. walks or go to a bookstore together. Those are the kinds of things I look forward to doing with you. For even just a few days, it's so nice to feel like we're neighbors.
    Throughout this past year, I feel like we have both learned and grown so much, and I just love that our friendship is exactly what it is. It may be cliche, but I now understand what having a sister feels like. And I wish I had more siblings!"

  4. Oh dear, I wasn't expecting to get a guilt trip for trying to contribute to your blog. In answer: no, I did not send her a note, but I did go and spend a nice evening with her. I even bought her and my great-aunt some McDonald's, but I will admit that I had to chew both of them out when they started stealing my fries despite not ordering any. Seriously, if you want fries, ask for them. And this was a repeat offense for the both of them!

    (And yes, this was the card I showed you in the past. I also have a few nice hand-written notes from a blog writer in my stash.)

  5. Nothing says "I love you" like McDonald's.
    And the list thing is a nice way to make someone's day. I made a cute little list for a few friends recently.

    And another way I like to do handwritten notes, it by writing what i call "love letters" on people's mirrors (which is why I always have a dry erase marker). I think it's nice to wake up to :)

  6. Just another reason I love your writing. I just wish all of us had saved Mama'a notes through the years to make a book. Keep up the wonderful writing. I think your house is so great, I can not wait to hang out in downtown Marrowbone!

  7. Stephen: You should've turned the table over and yelled, "I warned you."

    Alexus: So, no issues with getting dry erase markers off mirrors? I really like this idea.

    Carolyn: I know! We should start doing that from this point forward. I have a ton from the past few years, but I'm sure I'm missing plenty too. Thanks so much for reading and for your thoughtful comment.:)
    And, thanks for stopping by today. Once I get everything settled, we should have a girls night - maybe an American Idol party?