This week MFAC alum Maggie Moris* shares a story about the power of taking the time to write something by hand and how stumbling across a long-forgotten letter can bring important memories surging back to life.
I miss her.
My maternal grandmother, Mary Jane Swan, took me in to live with her at a time when I needed out of a toxic relationship. On a late November night nearly twenty years ago, I called her in desperation. I barely spoke three words before she said, “You don’t have to explain. The front door’s unlocked. I’ll wait up.”
I miss her for that large love gesture. I miss her for the countless smaller acts that made her an enormous presence in my life. I miss her small kitchen and the tiny table by the window where love was offered up alongside warm slices of homemade bread shimmering with melted butter.
So when, earlier this November, I stumbled upon an old forgotten card from her – found in a completely unexpected place – it was as if she found a way to reach across the great divide between us and offer comfort and love all over again.
Packed over the three blank panels of the greeting card, her strong upward-tilted hand marched through seventeen sentences, each one a declaration of the dearest pieces of her world. Her unique choices for spelling and punctuation trumpeted her fierce personality.
“Dear Maggi! What a nice surprise! To hear from you.”
She wrote about baking bread, about her gardens and of preparations to overwinter plants.
“… putting them in the garage, temporarily to get used to coming indoors.”
She mentioned a cousin living in Toronto with a new husband and their limited finances.
“Bob can only take a few classes this year.”
She touched upon the Brazilian foreign exchange student that she and grandpa hosted when they were in their late sixties. Then, she noted her plans to go to church later that day before having dinner with my parents. Finally, she ended the card with news that she had attended a wedding reception the nite (sic) before:
“…so many of our neighbors were there. Danced, too.”
Seventeen sentences and the whole heart of her life was offered up, a condensed remembrance of hearth, home, family, faith, community, hospitality, and dancing …
Which brings me to now and to you.
In this season of mostly mass-produced holiday missives, can we choose to write one hand-written note? Pick a child - any child – or anyone near and dear, close or far, and send something of yourself via a paragraph or two with your scribbles and scratches. Start a conversation. Open up a dialogue for later. (Replace, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” with, “What world problem would you like to solve?”)
A written-by-hand note, with its stamp, postmark, fold and seal is a tangible time capsule. It fixes the here and now in place with heart-meant-ness. Something written by hand bears your unique script in a way that a typewritten font simply cannot.
Even if Grandma Swan had written her seventeen sentences in an e-mail and even if I had printed that e-mail and saved it, the experience of reading her words would not be the same.
I believe that something elusive and ethereal attaches itself to our squiggles and loops, slashes and dashes. We impart an invisible energy through our physical touch, even if only through pen to paper. As writers we are uniquely – if not exclusively – positioned to send many such small emissaries out into someone’s future moment – moments we can’t see or anticipate, but important connections nonetheless.
Grandma Swan died on December 14, 2005. Ten years have passed since I last held her hand. Yet, those five or ten minutes she took to compose her thoughts on that day, on this card, ensured that the future me could one day feel her touch again.
A present day spirit created with the corporeal hand of the past … a lost letter full to the brim with tidings of comfort and joy.
Happy Holidays, dear friends.
I hope you write.
I hope you dance.
*Maggie Moris (a.k.a. M. A. Moris) writes middle-grade novels. She plans to write a personal card to all four of her nieces and nephews this Christmas. She is a 2009 Hamline graduate and has asked Santa for a few more Twitter followers @maggiemoris. Her website is http://www.maggiemoris.com