Friday, March 5, 2010

Mr. Ward's Letter

A couple of months ago, a grade school classmate sent out an email alerting fellow alumni that a former teacher of ours, Mr. Frank Ward, would be celebrating his 90th birthday. We were encouraged to send cards or call him with congratulations. Probably as a way to procrastinate further work on my novel, I went to the store, bought a card, signed my name, and posted it.
Ward was my seventh grade history teacher, but his true claim to fame was as the boys' P.E. teacher and coach extraordinaire. I didn't think he'd actually remember the odd little girl who tried her best to avoid any attention in his class.
Much to my surprise, a couple of weeks ago, I received from Ward a two-page handwritten letter, two photos enclosed. His handwriting, like the man I remember, is still strong, bold, and absolutely unique with quite grand flourishes on capital letters, and swirling tails on "y"s and "g"s. In one of the photos, he is unapologetically holding a mint julep cup, and on the back of said photo, he has written, "This is not is a drink."
I've thought about this man and this letter quite a bit in the past few weeks. When was the last time I received a real, honest-to-goodness letter? It must be a decade or more ago. We don't write letters anymore; we email or text or pick up the phone. And that's a damn shame. Aside from the fact that the postal service has been bankrupted by our new techno habits, what will happen to our history? I don't mean the earth shaking global-economy-who's-the-top-dog-now history, but rather the little history of individuals and families. Without those boxes of yellowing, crinkly missives stashed in attics for generations to come, what will our grandchildren and great grandchildren know of our family struggles and triumphs? How will my great grandchildren ever know the bits and pieces of daily life that helped form their grandparents, their own parents, and ultimately they themselves?
Finding a treasure trove of family letters (as I did when clearing out my parents' house) is finding out much about who you are and how you came to be. So with that in mind, I have vowed to begin writing to my middle daughter (the only one who lives out of state). I hope to send a letter at least once a month. I've already told her she is under no obligation to write back (I'm not silly), but I do hope she will keep my letters. I hope I can chronicle just a little bit of our family's life and times here in 2010 and beyond. And maybe she and/or her children will understand that a great teacher can still teach a great lesson even when he is 90 and the student is...well, thinking about grandchildren.