This, That and Other Stuff

Bob Neuman

An old-time piano player in the 1920s named Fats Waller was known for the silly song I’m Gonna’ Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter. I rather doubt that anyone would do that but if so, do you suppose they would mail it? When was the last time you picked up your pen and actually wrote a letter? That art may be lost due to the computer and other electronics.

Remember struggling to learn spelling, grammar and usage? Now word processors correct by untangling our participles and replacing our misplaced modifiers, but not always accurately. The spell check insists on calling my daughter Terri, “Terror.”

Once a typing course was necessary to learn the keyboard. Now we rely on the one or two finger system and the typewriter is gone.

Does anyone recall the Palmer Method? For what seemed an eternity, students scrolled circles and marks across the page to improve their penmanship. I am living proof it did not work.

The practice was done with a stone-age pen and an ink bottle recessed into a wooden desk. This enabled the student to dip in and drip everywhere. As I recall, it was more fun jabbing the sharp point into any rump seated in front of us.

Today these pens would be banned by the ACLU. Some kid might drink the ink or jab his own eye with the archaic thing.

English teachers insisted on the salutation, body and closing for each letter. Only business letters were typed.

The first letter may have been scratched on a cave wall. Letters from early Indiana settlers exist today, containing poor spelling and unusual wording. Often these letters were just sent with others traveling in the recipient’s direction taking months to arrive, if ever.

Examples of personal letters were preserved from Coon Paw, Indiana, in 1806.

“Dear Sister Maude and Calab,

Me and my man endured many hardships in this God forsaken place. Oh to be back in a civilized town like Pittsburgh! These crude and ignorant folks called Hoosiers use the most filthy language, yell and yahoo constantly, spit wherever they choose and are drunk and rowdy. Their wives are mousy little people, having no rights nor say. And oh, those children!

Well Maude, I will lay down the pen and wish you a very Merry Christmas.

Your loving sister, Matilda.”

And this—

“My dear brother Rufus,

The reson to comens this letter is not to my liking. Do you ‘member when we’uns come here, from the goodness of my heart and du to you’un being my brother, I lent you nine dollars so you’un could buy a hog?

Many months has gone by and yu hav not sent me whats du. I am bound to say you are a dirty rotten polecat and a turble lire. If I was ther I would give you a thrasshen of which you hav never seen. We’un need money for grub.

If’n I ever come back ther, I be duty bound to take a board and bash yu on yer head, yu scoundrel yu.

Please say howdy to your misses and the younguns.

I remain yer lovin’ brother, Caleb.”

If there is someone waiting for a written letter from you, consider penning one a bit happier than the preceding two.