The Working Title Is…Pen To Paper: A Timeless Treasure

I had an experience this weekend that served as a virtual slap in the face and left me asking, “How did you let yourself get so sucked in to the trappings of technology?”

An upgrade became available on our cellular phone plan, and for the first time ever, I jumped on it before one of my kids could scoop it up.

(Sorry girls. Merry Christmas to me.)

As I was preparing to transfer data from the old phone to the new, I was prompted to select any or all contacts, photos, or videos I wanted moved.

Wait…would this mean that a favorite text that I have not deleted for more than four years would not appear on my new phone? I had to do something to make sure the message would not be lost forever.  So, I went to the old phone, opened the text, took a screenshot, emailed it to myself, uploaded it to iPhoto, saved it to a flash drive, burned it to a CD and printed out a hard copy, just to be safe.

Something tells me Josephine never had to expend that much effort to safeguard a message from Napoleon, and she was in the middle of a Revolution far scarier than my coup d’état of the next cell upgrade.

I went to add the paper to my memory box, and that’s when the ridiculousness of it all hit me.   A printout just looked silly among handwritten letters from my mom, my best friend since sixth grade, my college boyfriend and my husband. (Same guy, btw.) I picked up the letters one by one, and the emotion emanating from the pen-stroked cursive lines brought me to tears. One of my mom’s notes had a round stain from a coffee cup in the corner. I could immediately picture her with a cup of Sanka at our kitchen table writing the letter that included her cartoonish depiction of my brother’s new haircut.

I pulled out a bunch of Blue Mountain Art cards from my best friend who was forever attempting to build my confidence and encourage my dreams through notes nestled in between pastel beach scenes and poetry. I could see from the large inkblot at the end of one sentence that her pen paused there for awhile. I couldn’t help but wonder if that meant Stephanie was making a definitive point or simply hesitating before writing the next sentence, not sure of how much truth I could tolerate.

Putting pen to paper has become a lost art, and as a result, we are losing the “timeless treasure” aspect of personal communication. No font, no matter what the point size or use of italics, can convey the added dimension of emotion that is carried by the hand-written word. Not Papyrus. Not Comic Sans. Not even Lucida Calligraphy.

I am patiently waiting to get my hands on a family treasure that will demonstrate this reality in a manner that is truly historical, capturing the mundane to the profound.

My husband’s aunt has been given the chance to read letters her Uncle Sarsfield wrote to his wife during World War II. Her cousin has shared that, at a minimum, they wrote to each other three times a week between 1942 and 1945. Aunt Helen tells me she is now reading fall, 1944 when Sars’ outfit was working its way through the fields of France, living in foxholes and abandoned homes with holes in the roofs.

She shared a few letters with me, and I feel as though I’ve been transported through time. His penmanship is exquisite. His salutation, “Hello My Dearest,” melts my heart. His time/date stamp of “Sept. 8, 1944, 11am, Somewhere in France” sets the stage and puts you in his mindset as he describes his rain soaked foxhole.

You’d think one letter was a movie script, but it’s not. It’s a piece of paper that was once blank until beloved Uncle Sarsfield wrote in the top right-hand corner, “Tuesday, June 6, 1944.”

Can you imagine? Tuesday, June 6, 1944.

“This is the eventful day that we and the rest of the world have been waiting and planning for….no great show of emotion, the job has started and we hope to finish it in the quickest time possible.”

To think, he held this exact piece of paper in his hands on D-Day. To think of the distance this piece of paper traveled until it reached his “dearest.” And to think of the time she spent worrying before, during and after it reached her.

Regardless of how much emotion an author pours into a text, I don’t think it will ever be able to translate across generations like a hand-written note does.

But the only way I will know for sure is if I continue to put pen to paper and share with my loved ones what I hold in my heart…from the mundane to the profound.


Screen Shot 2014-12-15 at 11.55.21 PM


The Working Title is…It’s a Wonderful Life

When I reflect on all the major decisions I’ve made alone since my husband’s death, I think he would have approved of all of them…except one. He’d shake his head over the fact I went fake.

Not boobs. Christmas tree.

For many Christmases, our family would drive north, stop for breakfast at the same diner and sit in the same booth. Then we would drive to the Christmas tree farm, grab a wagon and a saw, and search the farm for the “perfect” tree. Every year the girls would scream, “I found it!” and they would crouch on the ground next to a scrawny little fir stalk that would make even Charlie Brown’s Christmas tree look plush in comparison. Never got old.

Eventually, we did find the perfect tree, and Pat would go all Paul Bunyan on this miraculous bit of nature that would serve as the centerpiece of our holiday enjoyment. Once home, he would fight with the Christmas tree stand, often sawing and sweating more than anticipated. My favorite was the year he threw up his hands, diagnosed our tree with scoliosis and declared it The Year of Crooked Christmas. He put an eye hook in the ceiling and anchored the tree with fishing wire.

Our first Christmas without Pat, the girls and I agreed that we wouldn’t be able to continue that tradition for a lot of reasons, so we went fake. Now we sweat more than anticipated while dragging this big fake tree up from the basement every year.

Then our tradition picks up where it left off, and we watch Frank Capra’s classic movie It’s a Wonderful Life as we decorate our tree. As ornaments are pulled out of the box, the conversation bounces between “Ooh, remember this one?” and reciting lines from the movie along with the characters.

You could more than fill a book with the life lessons that George Bailey, Mr. Potter, Clarence and, in fact, every character imparts as the story unfolds.

George is told that he’s been given a great gift in being able to see what the world would have been like had he never been born. The holiday season invites us all to reflect on the “ripple effect” our words and actions have on others.

It’s easy to imagine the positive impact a donation to the giving tree at church or a food bank might have for someone in need. What is more difficult to admit is the ripple effect my short-tempered words of frustration might have on someone. Patience is often in short supply during the holidays, and sadly, those I love are most often directly impacted.

This holiday I’m going to strive to make the ripple effect of my words and actions a little more George Bailey and a little less Mr. Potter. (Although, I must admit my second favorite line in the movie is when Potter says, “George, I am an old man and most people hate me. But I don’t like them either, so that makes it all even.” Gotta give props for such keen self-awareness.)

My favorite line from the movie is the one that holds the most truth. It is Clarence Oddbody AS2 who says, “Strange, isn’t it? Each man’s life touches so many other lives. When he isn’t around he leaves an awful hole, doesn’t he?”

Oh, Clarence, you have no idea.

As I look at our beautiful fake tree with souvenir ornaments from family trips, ornament gifts from friends that carry deep significance, and the most precious of all, the ornaments made by tiny hands that are no longer tiny…there is absolutely no question that it’s a wonderful life.