Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Notes of Interest

I went to lunch last week with two close high school friends with whom I hadn't spoken in twenty years. Inconceivable, wasn't it, that we'd go from being nearly inseparable, to sending Christmas cards, to... nothing?

Yet over our salads and sandwiches, the years melted away. One moment we were middle-aged near-strangers, and the next, we had managed to conjure up some semblance of what is was to be fifteen.

As we reminisced about our collective pasts and caught up with our current lives, my friend Sue reached for her purse.

"I put these aside to bring to our last class reunion, but I never made it there," she said. "So I figured I'd bring them along today." She pulled out a plastic baggie stuffed with paper and handed it to me.

I opened the baggie and began unfolding one of the pages. "Dear Susie Baby," it began. The writing, in faded purple ink, seemed familiar. I squinted at the page and glanced up at her.

"These are all the notes you wrote me in high school. Most of them during biology class in sophomore year," she said. "I saved them all, in a cookie jar."

"You're kidding."

She shrugged and smiled. "Every time I moved, I'd find them and think about tossing them, but I never did. I don't know why. But they're a hoot. You should take them home and read them."

And so I did.

I'd like to say she saved them for thirty-five years because I was a teenage prodigy and the words I wrote as a high school sophomore were already Pulitzer-worthy. They were, indeed, sometimes funny and heart-warming.

But what they contained wasn't some award-winning writing. What was meaningful about these words, scrawled during a single hour each day during a single school year, was that they provided a written snapshot: a clear image of one short but meaningful time in each of our lives.

What I read reminded me about events I'd fully forgotten. About our favorite catchphrases and favorite people. About the person my friend was at fifteen, and the person I was then, too.

My last words were written in June 1977. "Well, Big Baby, this is the last note I will ever write to you in biology class... I hope you have kept all my notes this year. It's a valuable collection!"

None of my high school scribblings would net a dime on Pawn Stars. But valuable? Ah, such a subjective term when it comes to pieces of our past.

Stashed away in my basement, amidst holiday decorations and cartons of books, are cardboard boxes filled with mementos. Among these are countless handwritten memories: postmarked envelopes with letters written in a long-gone aunt's cursive script. Handmade birthday cards from my sons, in a child's clumsy printing. And somewhere, for certain, contraband notes from old friends written during school days when we knew friendships to be far more important than any teacher's lectures.

Will today's generation still have the ability to capture this magic of their past, thirty or more years from now? Will they be able to scroll through old text messages and emails and Facebook posts from long-lost friends or deceased loved ones? If so, will those electronic words in some computer-generated sans-serif font still hold the same meaning?

I hope so.

The passing of years turns our memories into muddied images. But what remains behind in paper and ink enlightens the past in vivid detail, often more so than a photograph. It recaptures meaningful moments from the writer's point of view. It reminds us of who and what was once important to us, and often explains why we are whom we are today.

I might not still be that fifteen-year-old telling bad jokes, practicing even worse Spanish skills and plotting big plans for the weekend.

But thanks to my words, preserved by a friend for thirty-five years, I had one hell of a time getting reacquainted with her.


Do you still believe in paper and ink? When's the last time you sent snail mail? Who were you at fifteen?

41 comments:

  1. What a gift!

    I have a box, too, of mementos and letters. The perfect script of my mother and grandmothers, the tight, small handwriting of my father. My own loopy large adolescent handwriting. I've jettisoned many things, but not that box.

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  2. Lisa: Exactly! And my own loopy adolescent handwriting cracks me up--as do the little cartoons that accompanied it!

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  3. I have my grandmother's love letters in a box, my mother's love letters, and my own (for what reason I'll never know, they're all history). I also have old concert ticket stubs and every holiday or birthday card I ever received. But my prize possession is the binder of Notes.

    My best friend was two grades higher than me. She went off to the brand-new Senior high school in tenth grade while I was stuck at the Junior High. She lived way out in the country, though, and her bus had to pick up the Junior High kids before heading out of town.

    Every afternoon when Junior High let out, I'd watch for her bus, and run up alongside it. She'd open the window and stuff a note at me before it drove off, and I'd shove one at her. By "notes", I mean page upon page of notebook paper, long passages about every thought under the sun, in different colored ink, with illustrations. My friend sometimes included surprised like a smear of the chocolate bar she'd had during study hall--"Hungry? Want a sample?" or tape a bit of cat fuzz to the page when she wrote at home at night.

    I still have the binder I saved the notes in. We're still best friends--30-some years later. Somehow I don't think kids are archiving their texts quite the same way, and that's sad.

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    1. Jeanne: Oh, I love this! I can see this scene in a movie or a book--the bus pulling away and the two friends hurriedly exchanging notes and shouts of hello and goodbye! Nice, too, to see the friendship remained strong.

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  4. I have every letter ever written to me from friends and family during my college years in Colorado. Receiving mail was a huge deal - I made sure to write letters out the gazoo just to make sure my daily trip to the mail room wasn't wasted. They're in two huge boxes in the basement somewhere, mostly read through only once. This story is a great reminder for me to go attack those babies (if they haven't disappeared)!

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    1. U.K J.K.: I was never gone from home for that long of a period, but I would imagine those letters made you feel connected and secure. Go home and look for them!

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  5. My Dad is my archive. He has everything I wrote from toddler scribbles through my high school years, and everything he could get his hands on since.

    Including my multi-notebooked sparkly penned unicorn epic. I should really finish that one of these days, but I can't read my handwriting.

    I'm doing the same for my kids. I bought a desk calendar for each the week before they were born and wrote bits and pieces about their development for one year. Now, I'm saving art and stories.

    And at fifteen? I was a mess. You should see the bathos, and it's not just terrible poetry . . .

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    1. Sarah: Maybe one of your daughters can translate the unicorn writing... And it's so wonderful that you are collecting stories and such for your kids. I really regret not being diligent about documenting my sons' early years. Life seemed too hectic and stressful at the time, and I never made it the priority it should have been. See how far you've come from fifteen?

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  6. what a fun luncheon.

    being from a small town (that i still live nearby) i am in contact with many who i knew at 15. in my neighborhood, there are at least 10 of us who graduated from the same high school during a 3-year period. it's mostly okay. then there was a moment at this year's halloween party when i ended up by the fire with my young one and two other dad's. both were boys i kissed between the ages of 15 and 19. then it can get kinda weird.

    i send snail mail all the time. i love stationery. mostly a lot of thank you notes. but sometimes, just to send a card that i found that reminded me of someone.

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    1. Amy: Ha! Yes, it's so weird when past and present worlds collide like that! And stationery. *sigh* I miss it. I may go buy some this weekend.

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  7. Sherry, this post is so beautiful. The image of all those notes kept safe and protected in a cookie jar is so vivid. The purity of it melts my heart. And you're so right to wonder about this next generation. They're are bound to miss this magic, this right of passage and that is so wrong. Thank you for sharing this with us. Your voice here is captivating.

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  8. I love this.
    Most recent snail mail was Tuesday: a photo in a card, a birthday card and a postcard.

    The only set of notes I have is from 11th grade French class, from my first boyfriend, notes that led up to him asking me to the prom. I kept them folded in their neat origamis that we all knew back them. They're in the basement in a green plastic bin of tax records from a real ex, kept safe from that toxicity by the G-clef covered stationary box, overstuffed and kept closed with dirty, yellowed masking tape.

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    1. Lyra: You received all three in one day??? I'm so envious! I'm not sure I even looked at Tuesday's mail. I usually just toss the stack on the kitchen counter and figure I'll get to all the bills that weekend. So, when are you going to pull off that yellow masking tape to reread the old notes?

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    2. Oops. I misread the question. I SENT out three things. I rarely get anything in the mail, although my husband will mail me a postcard or a letter every now and again.
      Mainly I send myself small boxes to make up for the void....they tend to say Amazon on the side.

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    3. Lyra: No, you didn't misread the question; I misread your answer. So now I'm not envious of you--I'm proud!

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  9. I LOVE the ease of typing but I also was born before computers were all the rage so a handwritten note is something more personal, special to me.

    I have my grandma's bible with her handwriting in it, I love to take it out and look at it, reminding me of birthday cards past with a cute note perfectly written in cursive inside....*sigh*....

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    1. Amanda: Yes, you're on that computer and pre-computer cusp, aren't you? And the cursive thing--so beautiful, but apparently a lost art. (Even I don't use it; I print everything.) I understand they may not even bother to teach it in schools anymore.

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  10. What a treasure to discover! I'm a big believer in the hand written word, though sadly I rely much more on my computer. I just read an article in Newseek that said that we remember words better when we write them by hand because we remember how they look on the page. Interesting stuff!

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    1. Lisa: So true! I always studied best for tests by writing everything down and somehow committing it to memory. I tried this recently with something I had typed, and it wasn't nearly as effective!

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  11. Fabulous Post. You brought back so many memories of my own high school notes. Thank you for that!

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    1. Anon: Thank you. And if you happen to find any in your attic, take the time to share them with the writer (if you're still in touch).

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  12. What a gift Sherry! I can see some of your present day humour shining through in those excerpts. Somewhere I have a box with notes, cards, etc. When I finish unpacking the present day stuff, I'm going to hunt for my past.

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    1. Downith: Funny, I did see bits and pieces of today's me in those notes. I have, however, evolved just a bit... Forget about unpacking colanders and snowpants and knickknacks. Go hunt for your past now!

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  13. Wonderful blog! What a valuable friendship you each re-discovered Sherry. I still believe in the power of the pen and do send thank you notes, cards of cheer, etc. and I bypass the electronic method somewhat. I don't expect either method to be saved, yet the notes you wrote to Sue were saved and you can't get more personable and warmer than that! Mom

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    1. Mom: You and your friends are still so great about mailing cards and handwritten notes. My friends and I? Not so much. I don't see my kids doing it at all. Let's hope their children will pick up where we left off. Could be a new retro trend, kind of like collecting vinyl records is now.

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  14. That's awesome she still had the notes. Were they folded into pockets or triangles? How fun to read them again. Seems like yesterday, doesn't it? I love pen and paper, although I am a horrible correspondent. Handwriting says so much about a person. You can't really put an iPhone in a cookie jar and save it for 30 years. I think I threw my notes away during the phase in my life when I was apartment hoping every year. So sorry I did.

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    1. LM: In some ways it does seem like yesterday--and at the same time, it's been such a very vague memory. Yet it's one that I now recall in much more vivid detail, thanks to my friend's sweet gesture.

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  15. Wow, Sherry. What a wonderful (to say the least) surprise!! And how about your friend keeping your notes for these decades --- kudos to her. Bless her. What a gift. I'm imagining what it must be like to unfold those pieces of paper and see your 15 yr old self splayed openly on those pages .... love it.

    How sad is it that our kids will have none of this. What will be saved? Treasured? I can hardly bear thinking about it.

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    1. Teri: Yes, it was a wonderful gift. I should probably send her a thank-you. Handwritten, of course.

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  16. I'm in awe of your friend. How sweet it is to think that she kept them all these years, and now they've made the circle back to you. My kids still write notes in class every day. I find them in the laundry, and sometimes on the back seat of my car.

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    1. Averil: Do they really?!? Oh, my faith in humanity and the future is restored! Hallelujah!

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  17. For years I saved notes from a high school boyfriend, along with all the letters/cards my friends sent me when I went away for 5 weeks one summer for an arts camp on the other side of the state. I found all those letters and notes about 4-5 years ago, when I was cleaning in preparation for a move. I was in awe that my friends sent me so many cards/letters. No teenagers are doing that these days, I'm sure. The odd thing about today is that nothing these teens puts online ever really disappears, so it can haunt them later, but it also isn't easily accessible to them if they want to reminisce, either.

    That day I re-read all those notes was also the day I threw them out. It was a tough decision. But when it comes to stuff like that I'm a hoarder and will carry it with me forever, and at that point I decided I'd feel lighter if I let it go. But I still have my entire life's worth of journals (not letting those suckers go) so I'm set.

    As far as feeling 15 is concerned, I'm currently working on a creative nonfiction piece that's making me dredge up times from when I was 15. I'm shocked at how immersed I feel in that past, how I almost feel 15 again. Just like yesterday. And just like forever ago.

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    1. Laura: I can't believe you finally got rid of them after all that time! No regrets at all? But to have written and kept a lifetime of journals... wow. I so wish I would have stuck with writing one. I'll bet that helps tremendously with projects like the one you're writing now!

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  18. I have plenty of odds and ends scattered around from my younger years which have some sweet memories associated with them, but I don't intentionally hold onto them, I just don't have much point to ditching most of the notes and drawings. ;) I think I have a pretty odd sense of sentimentality, though. I keep stuffed animals, but few photographs. I have "treasures" collected from camping trips and hiking through the forest, but only a tiny handful of birthday and Christmas cards. Maybe it's just relative, though. I still have pretty much every single thing my husband has given me, from the day we met in person, where he gave me his band t-shirt and a CD. :D

    ~Ashlee
    http://ashleesch.com
    http://theDragonsHoard.bigcartel.com

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    1. Ashlee: Band t-shirts!! Oh, lord, I wish I would have kept some of those! But I never received one from a future husband, or maybe I would have. :-)

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  19. I would be much like your friend. I still have all my school notebooks as well as every letter ever sent to me via snail mail (and a ton of emails too)

    So far it's been a vast but untapped source of blog material. I may have to go scavenging soon.

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  20. Bluz: What a sentimental guy! I'm anticipating lots of nostalgic stories your way soon! Can't wait to read them...

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  21. Oh I love this. My husband is a great writer of notes. I've kept most of them over the last 10 years and now I'm inspired to read them all.

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  22. Bobbi: Read them! You never know what gems you'll find to include in your book!

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