February: a time for hearts, flowers and love letters. Wait, is anyone still writing love letters — or any other letters, for that matter?
Back in the day — even way before my time — lovers penned their amorous thoughts in lavishly handwritten missives.
Take a peek through history and discover hundreds of love letters written by historical figures, such as Abigail Adams to her husband John, Napoleon Bonaparte to his wife, Josephine, and Ludwig von Beethoven to his "Immortal Beloved."
These ardent expressions were usually a result of prolonged separation during a time when there were no jet planes or technology to hurry togetherness.
As centuries passed, love letters prevailed and survived through wars and devastation, providing subsequent generations with knowledge about what it was like to be separated from a loved one during, for example, the Civil War and two World Wars. (I was enthralled to read the letters my father had sent to my mother while he was stationed in the Pacific during World War II).
Today, letters of any kind aren't what they used to be. I wonder how much time it took to dip a quill pen into an inkwell and then to proceed writing — by candlelight — each letter of the alphabet with fancy flourishes that looked like works of art. Apparently that extra time provided more food for thought and more words.
Through the centuries, we began to hurry forward, ultimately simplifying our writing with pencils and ball-point pens.
With the introduction of American greeting cards in the 1800s and their increase in popularity about a hundred years later, we began to take advantage of the printed sentiments inside the card, with no need to write or to think about what we wanted to say. Our biggest challenge is choosing the card that comes closest to expressing our own thoughts.
Today, the card industry is constantly evolving, producing words for almost every situation, such as divorce, serious illness or encouragement to children. The printed messages and modern technology enable us to skip writing. It's far quicker and easier to email, text, tweet or use e-cards — another computerized means of sending several kinds of greetings.
As a result, many students are no longer taught cursive. Recently, I was surprised by a 15-year-old friend who confessed she couldn't read the note I had written on her birthday card and even asked me to write her name so she could practice writing her signature.
In contrast, I remember the plaque my daughter made with pasted beans when she was in second grade. At the bottom she had printed "bean," only to have scratched it out when she realized she had learned how to write the word in cursive — and then proceeded to do. (The plaque is on display in my kitchen.)
And who can forget the punishment once administered to elementary students who talked too much, or chewed gum or forgot to bring their homework to class. I remember, too well, my repeated assignment of writing 100 times, "I must not talk in class."
Ensuring good penmanship, students used lined paper and made sure all of the letters touched the bottom line and that the tip of the small and capital letters approached the appropriate one.
Indeed, we have come a long way. Extended separations between our loved ones are no longer an issue in terms of communication. We have jet planes and iPhones to speed things up with a mere touch of a finger bringing oh-so-brief messages to our loved ones in an instant.
So many things to say in so little time.
I wonder if future generations will be able to recover data from rusty, antiquated electrical devices. As far as handwritten letters are concerned, historians might be out of luck.
Dolly Merritt writes from Westminster. She can be contacted via email at email@example.com.