Friday, January 7, 2011

To Whom It May Concern


Dear America,
How are you? I am well. How’s our president? I hope he is well.  His family, too. I know it’s been a long while since we wrote letters to each other, but maybe that will change soon. My hope is that instead of going the way of the dinosaur, letter-writing will catch on again. What do you think?
Remember when we learned how to write a letter in school? I think my first time was in the third grade. I forget my teacher’s name, but I remember how important I felt to writing a letter. I'd watched my parents do it since I could remember. Used to be when my mom wrote letters to her family back home, she always asked my sister Betty and me if we wanted to say anything. Of course we always dictated the same thing, “Say hello to grandmother, to Aunt Pauline, to Aunt Annie Pearl, and to Aunt Gloria.”  They sent their return regards in a one-letter reply by way of Grandmother’s letter to Mama. I used to ask for the pretty stamps on those letters. I have no idea why, seeing how I lost them before the day was over. 
Watching Mama writing made my mouth water. I didn’t think I could wait until I was big enough to write like her. I just knew that when I knew how, I’d write long chatty letters to everyone I knew. And, I’d use a fountain pen too, just like Mama. I loved her black fountain pen. Watching her fill the bladder with blacker-than-night ink convinced me magic was at work! 
When it ran dry, all she had to do was gently dip the shiny tip, called a nib, into the squat bottle of blue-black that bore a blue and gold label, lift a tiny brass colored lever in its side, and “slurp!” It sucked up ink until it was as full as my stomach got after I drank a whole glass of chocolate milk!
Once, when Betty was still napping and it was just the two of us, Mama said I could lift the lever to fill her pen. Oh, Little Girl Heaven was at hand! I tried. She held the pen. All I had to do was make the pen slurp. It wasn't as easy as it looked. My fingers were too little. My finger nails weren't long enough to slip below the dip the lever rested in. The disappointment was more bitter/sour than the alum I’d once sampled on the sneak. To this day my mouth still fills when I think back on that day. And although I own eight fountain pens, and none of them have bladders or shiny levers, I drag the emptiness of an unfulfilled promise across each page I write on. I have never owned a fountain pen with a bladder. Pen companies stopped making them long before I could own one. I used to haunt estate sales, Good Wills, antique stores . . . Always searching for the one thing I want more than an iPad. Feels like the mere memory of that particular failure holds onto the memory of puckering like it's a sidekick. I don't even have to close my eyes to see the bottle of ink or the label. It was Sheaffer's
Failure hurt but Mama made it better with a sweet promise of “Wait until you get to be a big girl, okay?” Like I’d be a big girl before her pen needed a refill. Still, I held onto those words until fountain pens were made obsolete by the ball point pen. That grossly inferior writing tool! Not a writing instrument but a writing tool. I held on until long after I was on a first name basis with the flavor and smell of envy every time I saw my teachers writing. They all used fountain pens. They filled out our report cards with fountain pens! Notes sent home were written with fountain pens! And, they all wrote the same beautiful cursive hand. I learned the coveted art I would spend years trying to master actually had a name. It wasn't just cursive. It was Spencerian. American Cursive was okay--just not on a par withSpencerian Script.
Spencerian Script. Rich, and elegant, and a thing worth coveting mastery of. Every classroom in every school I attended had thSpencerian alphabet printed on a green background. Surely the letters were permanently adhered to those walls, because they never slipped out of place or fell. The entire alphabet, and numbers one through ten hung there, so far above my head, nearer the ceiling, and closer to heaven than were my dreams of ever making them  flow from my own pen, or across my school girl paper--or yes Lord--them spell my name! Oh, the agony of being a first, second and third grader cursed with merely printing! 

Hope to hear from you soon.
Yours truly,
This Limner

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