Thursday, February 23, 2012
If letter writing is an art, then my grandfather was an artist. Born in 1923, he grew up in the 20’s and 30‘s. He was a young man and naval officer in the 40’s. My grandfather, Robert Burke Hilsabeck, wrote letters as did everyone else. A sign of the times I suppose, but there was nothing frivolous about my grandpa’s letters. There is a reason my grandmother saved every one he wrote when he wrote her everyday when he was in the naval academy. There is a reason everyone in my family saved the letters he had written them.They are beautiful.
There is something about letter writing. Taking pen to paper. Taking the time to write something by hand means more I think. You can tell me you love me, you can type it, you can text it, but writing it is different. It makes it more meaningful. It’s permanent and real. It takes effort.
When grandpa passed away in 2008, we were going through his things and found his “Copy Book,” something I didn’t know he had. It was a book of quotes he liked that he had written down over the years. I had this same thing in my purse that sat on the couch next to me. I loved that we had this in common. But what astounded me more is in it I found a draft of a letter he had written to me. A letter I had lost. The letter he wrote to me the week I got married. He was ill and couldn’t come to my wedding (which was devastating for me though of course I understood). He wrote me a letter in his absence. In it he quoted Robert Frost’s poem The Master Speed (a poem Robert Frost had written his daughter on her wedding day), “Together wing to wing and oar to oar.” A quote I love and is forever my barometer when finding a life long partner. I loved finding this long lost letter. Proof of his love for me, but also it proved to me he was a letter artist. He wrote drafts. There were scratched out sentences, arrows flipping phrases, re-chosen words. It was carefully constructed. He didn’t just use his quotes from his copy book, but wove them into his vernacular.
I also credit him with my love of story telling. I loved going to my grandparent’s house when I was a kid. Grandma would make me my favorite snack: a smoked cheddar cheese sandwich and hot tea and grandpa would bring out his tin of pencils and giant notepad. He would tell and draw stories all afternoon. A year before he passed away he read my picture book, Yawnster the Monster, and drew his rendition of Yawnster for me. I treasure that picture. It has a special place on my inspiration board.
Grandpa was an amateur photographer, collector of wisdom, illustrator, letter writer. I don’t know if my modest history teacher grandfather would have considered himself an artist. Though he most definitely was.
Take the time. Write a letter to someone you love. I’d love to hear about your connection to letter writing and letters you’ve received that have impacted you.
To close, I’d like to share the last part of a letter he wrote to me and my husband at the time:
“Both of you stay well and enjoy life: as Lincoln said he ‘was glad the future comes one day at a time.’ So it does and we have to ‘seize the day’ as the Romans said (Carpe Diem). Much love, Gramps.”
Grandpa, You would have been 89 today. Happy birthday. Thank you for making me all that I am. Your influence is obvious. As William Wordsworth said, “Fill your paper with the breathings of your heart." You did that. That is what strive for.
I love you. I miss you very much.