“A few figs from thistles…”
by Howard A. Tabor
“…the gift that goes on giving…”
As small-town newspapers like The Plantagenet withstand the digital assault, Mark Twain and paper share one important truth: Reports of their death have been exaggerated.
I got a letter yesterday, as an example — actual personal communication written on sheets of paper — from a friend in Minneapolis, which set me to locate my own writing supplies and organize my response. I shall craft it with care and deliberation during the next few days. Yes, this all takes time — gathering tools, structuring ideas and setting them on the page — but think it, rather, one of the finer gifts of friendship. Where, indeed, would the New Testament be without Paul’s compulsion to correspond [“correspond = to be in agreement,” according to my dictionary]?
One of the contradictions of letter-writing is its tactile intangibility. Electronic communication offers speed but ink on paper has greater presence and commands more attention; a different species of immediacy. For expressions of emotion, compassion, or consolation, we’re over-inclined to let Hallmark be our default. I prefer something personally composed, apropos the moment, handwritten: Letters of Protest or Resignation or Recommendation or Testimonial. Letters-to-the-Editor. Letters of Love or Farewell. In an envelope. With a stamp. [Do you miss stamps that required licking? I do.] The walk to the post office affords time for reflection; for reconsideration or amendment. And that last physical contact at the mail drop is a commitment like few others. My words are on their way. I have lobbed them across the metaphorical net.
Today’s letter arrived just as I was thinking about a different sort of commitment: the longer-term communication called The Book, whose demise has also been promised but remains contentiously unfulfilled. We have a few — books, that is — around our house and I want to tell my Minneapolis friend about one of them: WAH-TO-YAH and the Taos Trail, written by seventeen-year-old Lewis Garrard and published in 1850 when he was twenty-one; a narrative adventure in the early American West. Garrard’s words were made better (if that’s possible) because mine is the 1935 reprint by the Grabhorn Press, willed to me in 1959 by Hamish Brookes, Agincourt’s long-time purveyor of that other sort of paper, the gift that goes on giving, The Book. Brookes deserves a few more words but that will wait another day. In the meantime, you can read about him in Ghosts of Christmas Past #5.
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