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Handwritten is a place and space for pen and paper. We showcase things in handwriting, but also on handwriting. And so, you'll see dated letters and distant postcards alongside recent studies and typed stories. 

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Filtering by Tag: lifes letters

Carly Butler to be Letters Editor at Handwritten • A Handwritten Announcement

Brett Rawson

BY HANDWRITTEN

Eight months ago, we welcomed Carly Butler to the Handwritten Team as curator of a new column, Life's Letters. It was inspired by a discovery that led to a journey: after finding 110 love letters written from her grandmother to her grandfather, Carly packed her bags and went to the address of the first letter: London, England.

The only catch is: she had just fallen in love. So while she spent months retracing her grandmother's steps and reliving her letters day-by-day, she, too, was embarking on her own love and life through long-distant letters. All the while revisiting the past and dreaming of the future, Carly encountered scores of people who all had stories of their own, and finally, someone to share them with: Carly. This is the very reason Carly wanted to start the column: to showcase other peoples' stories as contained and ignited by the handwritten letter. Each story she curated detonated silently in the heart, from An Informal Memoir Joselyn Smith-Greene to The Keepers by Sharon Huget. And it's been such a wild joy to watch the stories unfold and get shared around the world. 

You won't see Life's Letters as a column, but the spirit lives on: as Letters Editor, Carly will be editing and curating all things letter-related, but she'll also be more involved with Handwritten's exhibitions, social media, events, and even the digital curriculum we're currently creating in collaboration with Karen Benke. To have her more involved brings us tremendous joy, as she is a trilateral power base of kindness, laughter, and great ideas.

We can't wait to see what the next 8 months bring! 

Ink Responsibly,
Handwritten

Lost Songs: A Conversation with My Father

Brett Rawson

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BY CARLY BUTER

My dad and I co-wrote a song together for the first time in March of 2015. Seeing the song come to life from the penciled pages of his handwritten notebook made me curious about the process, specifically in the earlier days of his songwriting. When I brought up the idea of being featured on Handwritten, he knew exactly what he wanted to share.  Below is the conversation with my dad, Dale Butler, folk singer-songwriter and local celebrity of Leamington, Ontario.  

CARLY: Where did you find these pieces of handwritten work? 
 
DALE: I was cleaning up the basement and found them in a folder.  One of them is a finished song that is handwritten, but most of them are a bunch of started and unfinished songs, a dog’s breakfast really. These were written on shopping bags that date back to 1977.  

I was working up north at a camp at the time, so I probably got it from the liquor store. I thought it was nice paper that I could cut up into pages.  I didn’t have paper with me so I used what I could find. You have to get creative sometimes.  I’ve written on envelopes, napkins, things I find in the glove box, business cards, gum wrappers or packages, and I’ve even written songs on cigarette boxes (even though I don’t smoke).

This piece of paper here is from when I was in Florida in 1980.  It’s a paper shopping bag that I found at my parents place there.  It’s dated Friday April 11th, 1980.  I was down at the water and I got writing about a fisherman.  It’s a poem, not a song. I never ended up putting it to music but I kept it all these years. I wrote a thing here, “spoken words should be written words.” 

This is a neat line, “no matter where you put them, in view or out of sight, they’ll turn to each other and start another fight.” I have no idea what that was about.  It must have been about my parents arguing, or my brothers, or my brother and dad because they used to argue about everything.  Some of this stuff is pretty amazing.  “Till love saves the day, love is stronger than any man, love can take you by the hand, love can conquer any land.” 
 
When you get looking at these scraps of paper, it’s funny what you write, because a lot of times things that are said are never documented.  If you don’t write it down there’s a good chance it will be lost.

CARLY: I notice that you always use pencil.  Why is that? 
 
DALE: I write with pencil because I have trouble spelling and because you’re always rewriting. With a pencil it’s easy to erase and fix it.  When you write with ink, you have to scratch it out and put the other word beside it.  
 
CARLY: Don’t you ever worry that you’ll erase something good? 
 
DALE: No.  If it were good it wouldn’t have gotten erased.  I have lots of things that are partly written. I found a few lines in this pile that I think are going to become a song that I want to finish. They’re kind of like lost songs that are going to come back to life some day.  Some of it might just be one good line I wrote a long time ago that I think I could work with.  
 
CARLY: When did you first start writing & what inspired you to write?

DALE: My next-door neighbor Dan and I started writing songs in 1972.  We would always listen to music by Gordon Lightfoot, Seals and Crofts and James Taylor and we decided to try and write our own.  I remember one particular song that Dan had started on a piece of paper that he left sitting on a stereo. I saw it, read it and told him how good it was. After finding out he was about to throw it away, I offered to take it home to work on it and it later became the song Sea Captain. Once I started songwriting, I couldn’t stop. The quest then became the next song and wondering if my songwriting was going to get better. 

CARLY: Back then, if someone found these papers, how would you have felt? Do you have any songwriting advice?
 
DALE: Sometimes you’re embarrassed by what you write because it’s so personal and the fear is that others will maybe have the wrong interpretation of what you have written.  It could be totally different than what you think you wrote.  
 
I think when you first start you have lots to say, but you worry.  As you get older, you are a little bit smarter with the use of words because you’ve done it quite a bit, and you can say just as much with less.  It’s about picking the right words and the ability to convey what you wanted, with less. 
 
Basically you need to start writing something.  It can be anything.  When you read it over again sometimes the words move you and other times they don’t.  If it doesn’t you just set it aside and move on to something else.  You can always come back to it 20 or 30 years later. I’m looking at this stuff that’s quite old and I’m realizing in this moment that it might have another life.  I’ve written 99 songs in my lifetime, maybe these handwritten lyrics on scraps of paper from the 70’s and 80’s that I’ve saved after all these years, will help me reach my 100th song this year. 

A Legacy of Travel • A Conversation with Christian Corollo, Past Present Project

Brett Rawson

BY CARLY BUTLER

After crossing paths with Christian on Instagram, I could tell that Christian and I had a lot in common. Not only was he recreating photos that his grandfather had taken 30 years earlier, but there were also ties to the grandmother's handwritten journals that made his journey so fascinating. Photographer and travel blogger, Christian created the Past Present Project and I had the chance to ask him a few questions about what kind of an impact these family heirlooms have had on his life. 

CARLY: How did you come across this heirloom?

CHRISTIAN: It all started in August of 2012 during a visit with my 99-year-old grandmother in Florida. After telling her about my relatively new love of travel, she showed me the travel journals from all of the trips she and my grandfather had taken between 1973 and 2003. I was fascinated by her detailed accounts of their journeys, including names of people they met and exact locations of places they stayed, and eventually had the courage to ask if I could keep such a treasured possession. Knowing that her journals would not be of interest to anyone after she passed away, she was delighted to hand them over to someone who would treasure them beyond her. I left Florida with over 20 of her thirty journals.

CARLY: What does it mean to you to have this piece of handwritten work?

CHRISTIAN: I could sense how important these journals are to my grandmother filled with memories of moments shared with my grandfather, experiences that come flooding back when she reads the words contained inside, and a legacy of travel. She has expressed this legacy of travel to me on many occasions and how proud my grandfather would be that I’m carrying it on in our family. She has also told me that their trips together are when they were the happiest. This is why I’ve felt the conviction to not only continue the legacy of travel they began, but share the words and moments of the most treasured times of their life.

CARLY: What has it inspired in you?

CHRISTIAN: Little did I know in 2012 that with the combination of her journals and my grandfather’s travel photographs, I would embark on my own journey of retracing their steps and stand in the same places they did so long ago. If not for her travel journals, I never would have discovered the exact locations of so many of my grandfather’s photographs or known the names and met for myself the people in his images.

Valhalla Pier in South Lake Tahoe, California | June 1981 & May 2015

Valhalla Pier in South Lake Tahoe, California | June 1981 & May 2015

Excerpt from my grandmother’s travel journal on June 9th, 1981: “Walked down to the lake – a vast expanse of quietly lapping water, brilliant sun, and a small sand beach before the ‘Jeffrey’ pine woods.”

Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, California | April 1979 & May 2011

Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, California | April 1979 & May 2011

Excerpt from my grandmother’s travel journal on April 27th, 1979: “There was an earthquake at that time in the middle of San Francisco! We didn’t feel it – were much too busy finding our way through town to the Presidio, a big military reservation. The scenic route lead right through it, to Fort Point, directly under the Golden Gate Bridge. Going on along the shore-drive, high above the blinding shimmering-white sea against the sun, along funny colorful small houses.

To see more of the Past Present Project, visit Christian's lovely website: www.pastpresentproject.com.

He Just Smiled, Said Hello, and Went On His Way • Lora Ackermann

Brett Rawson

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BY LORA ACKERMANN

While searching for any of the many examples of handwritten cards and notes from my family, I came across a journal of mine. This is an incredibly special journal, entirely handwritten, spanning from my first of what would eventually be four ovarian surgeries (over the course of many years) in August of 1992, through the death of my maternal grandmother in March of 1995, her husband, my grandfather in May of 1995, and ending with my soon-to-be wedding in October of 1995. These pages hold such a roller coaster of euphoria and pain. So many entries that touch my heart, soul, and spirit, drawing memories from places long forgotten to the routines of daily life. So many memories bringing new pains of loss and journeyed paths now closed. 

There truly is something to say about the handwritten page. There’s a certain comfort, a warmth, as though the lines are reaching forward, surrounding me in a hug, and drawing me in. As I re-read some of these entries, I can detect, in the formation of the letters, the slant of the words, the stains on the pages, changes in mood, emotion, stress level, time management, and so many other delicate strands that make up these layered memories; delicacies that would be but lost in simplified print. The handwriting, like the musical score of a movie, tells its very own story; separate from the worded memories they so eagerly record. 

Even after reading these pieces of my life from those years, pieces that now seem centuries away from reality, the entry on those first pages still strikes me the most. I had only been home from my first major surgery at age 20 for a day or two. Having received the good news that what was thought to be ovarian cancer wasn’t, I was free to heal and live my life in gratitude. I had a renewed sense of awe and appreciation for the little things life tended to toss haphazardly in my path and it showed in this entry. 

August 29, 1992

…..I just returned from a walk around the block—oh what memories lie in some of the houses around here—not just my own. I can look at Elizabeth’s house, or Suzy’s house, or LouAnne’s, and still see inside, 12-13 years ago….’youngins’ they’d call us. I see Liz and myself in her room, making stickers w/ double-sided tape—we made them out of just about anything—wrapping paper, pictures, things we’d colored, etc.

I see Suzy and I in her room—so pink—pink carpet, bedspread, walls, bright pink, light pink—if ever there was a pink room it was Suzy’s. I see the laundry chute and the poster of ‘Frank Poncherello’ from the TV show, “CHIPS” above her bed. (We had a crush on him, though I liked his partner better.) I see Suzy & I sitting on the floor in her ‘play room’ eating Fruitloops from the box and watching “Emergency 911” (or something like that)—she always said that one of the men was her daddy—They did look alike and for a while I believed her, too! 

I see LouAnne & I in her room playing w/Barbie dolls—she had a loft bed with a yellow carpet underneath. 

I also see inside another house down the street; a brown house next to the Woolsey’s and an elderly woman who used to live there alone. Unfortunately, I don’t remember her name—I wish I did. She used to read to me and she helped teach me to read so that when I was old enough—so to speak, I often read books to her. She was a very kind woman. I wonder how she faired after she moved. I was too young to remember why she moved—family reasons I suppose. I missed her for quite some time. I think sometimes I still do. Perhaps. 

I find that at times I even miss ‘Joe.’ ‘Joe’ was a man who ever since I could remember walked every day. Twice a day he passed our house. ‘Joe’ wasn’t his real name. I don’t know what it is actually. ‘Joe’ was a friendly man who always had a wonderful smile to give any passerby—anyone at all. I think he had a stroke or heart attack. I think he may still be alive, but he doesn’t walk around here anymore. Perhaps he moved; perhaps he just doesn’t walk anymore. ‘Joe’ never corrected us in regard to his name—he just smiled, said hello, & went on his way—leaving smiles on our faces for a long time after. I really did think his name was ‘Joe’ until I was about 15 or 16 when Mom told us differently. She told us his real name, but I still call him ‘Joe.’ Perhaps it’s ‘Joe’ that I owe, in part, my smiling fetish to. Perhaps.

Even typing up these wordssuch layered memories; memories of people who touched my life, beneath memories of writing the entry itself, beneath those of healing, speaking volumes in the spaces between the letters, the lines between the lines; you know the onesthe ones that speak to our hearts, pulling in our soul’s deepest comforts, the ones that can dry a dampened spirit or bring light to the darkest corners. Yes, so many layers that can only be fully appreciated to the depths they desire in their original, handwritten form. 

Today, I journal, too. Sometimes I type. Other times I dictate. But many a time, I pick up my pen, one of the many paper journals my amazing friends have gifted me recently, find a quiet space all my own, and, even for just a few blessed moments, I disappear into the notes of the score, the layers of the letters, the spaces between the words and lines, and the hidden pleasures and soul-soothing rhythms found only when pen, from hand to page, journeys forth.

Some People Live a Whole Lifetime, and They Never Learn to Love the Rain • Adrienne Pieroth

Brett Rawson

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BY ADRIENNE PIEROTH

I received this letter towards the end of my freshman year in college. I was away from my hometown of Denver, Colorado, attending Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa. It had been a year of adjustments for me — some good, some challenging — like most 18 year-olds spending their first long period of time away from home. My mother had always been the center of my life, the touchstone I would return to over and over again for comfort, love, a hug, a laugh, or a cup of tea and a much-needed chat. My mother was British and had me late in life the at 39 years old.

Perhaps it was her older, wiser years that made her such a solid and grounded figure in my life. If you asked me what defined the word “home” for me, I would say without hesitation, my Mum. While being away from the comforting home and life she had created for me was difficult at first — her care packages and letters she sent each week made all the difference. Most of the letters were about daily stuff — what was happening at home, with my Dad, or how the cats were doing. But towards the end of the year, this letter arrived. I knew it was special from the minute I opened it. I had no way of knowing that less than five years later, I would be sharing the words in this letter as part of the eulogy I gave at her funeral.  

Throughout my high school years my mother battled a rare form of cancer. During those years, I lost track of the number of surgeries, and the radiation and chemotherapy treatments.  But all the while, I never once remember her complaining, or asking “why me?” Perhaps the fact that my mother grew up in England during World War II, where nights spent in bomb shelters, rations and stories of sacrifice and bravery defined her youth. All I knew was that my mother had incredible strength, optimism, and not for one minute did she ever believe she wouldn’t survive her battle with cancer. 

When I first read it, the part of the letter that struck me most was that she was proud of me. My mother always told me she loved me and how proud she was of me, but it was something different to see it in words, written on a page, in her beautiful handwriting — handwriting, by the way, I couldn’t read until I was nearly ten. My mother had been a secretary and knew shorthand, so her writing was a combination of cursive and shorthand in a style all it’s own. 

Years later, at her funeral, it was her last words that spoke to me most, and the ones I shared with family and friends gathered to say goodbye. They were: 

...we have to have some grey days in our lives in order to appreciate the bright sunny ones, and we have to make the best of them. I can’t help thinking how wonderful it is that at your young age you seemed to have learned this. Some people live a whole lifetime, Adrienne, and they never learn to love the rain.

If I learned to love the rain, I learned from my mother’s example. Looking back, I wonder which of her grey days she was remembering as she wrote those words. The day I read those words as part of her eulogy was the greyest day of my life to date, even 26 years later, but the brightness of her love and the memories of my time with her outshine the rain. Whenever I want to remember this, I need only to open the envelope that contains my mother’s beautiful words of love and support to be reminded. 

April 29th, 1985

My Dear Adrienne,

I am looking forward so much to having you home for the summer. To hear the front door open & to hear you say, “Hi it’s me.” Your dad & I have missed your very much since you went off to college but we know this is the first stage of our daughter’s independence. We love you very much & we are so very proud of you. We know you have worked long & hard in all of your classes & it’s been a struggle, so many times wanting to go out & have fun, or go to a party, but knowing that you have homework to do and that the studies come first.  

You have always been able to appreciate the small things in life, Adrienne – a diamond ring – a new 28oz – a trip around the world! So just kidding, I really mean the small & important things in life.  When we talked on the phone last week I remember your comment on the weather.  It was raining & you said when you were passing a couple of students they were complaining about the rain; how wet & miserable it was. You told me you were smiling inside because it brought back memories of England back to you & the air smelt so sweet & fresh.

Life is a little like that – we have to have some grey days in our lives in order to appreciate the bright sunny ones, & we have to make the best of them. I can’t help thinking how wonderful it is that at your young age you seemed to have learned that. Some people live a whole lifetime Adrienne & they never learn to love the rain.  
 

From your ever loving, 
Mum

 

A photo of Adrienne and Mum 

 

Seventy Years Ago Today

Brett Rawson

By Carly Butler

It was while moving my grandfather into a retirement home that we stumbled upon 110 love letters written from my grandmother to my grandfather just after WWII. They were dated January to July of 1946, and they were tucked away in the back of a cupboard next to a slew of VHS tapes of recorded British sitcoms. My Grama had been gone for over 10 years at this point. She died when I was 13.

When we first found the letters, they were simply a precious family memento  an heirloom that we’d keep in a drawer the few years that followed their discovery. It wasn’t until 2012 that I found myself in front of the RMS Queen Mary docked in Long Beach, California, the ship that my Grama sailed on in 1946 towards her new life, that an idea started to form. I would move to England from January to July of 2013 to retrace my Grama's steps.  I would knock on the door of the house she wrote the letters from, I would visit the places she visited and I would write home to my love, just as she did.

The journey of retracing my Grama’s letters 67 years later changed my life. It has led me to this exact moment, drafting up my first entry for this column on Handwritten. If someone were to have told me that a bundle of love letters would change the course of my life, bring incredible people into my path, be the foundation of a love that I have with the perfect man for me, and create a connection to my Grama, someone who left this world almost 20 years ago, I’m not sure I would have believed it.  

What I've come to realize is that my gratitude for having these letters is far beyond the grand gesture or epic journey. The most meaningful part of having found my Grama’s letters is that they give me a window into a life-story of an incredible woman who walked before me. Her handwritten words allow me to get to know her as a 26 year-old women embarking on a major life decision, leaving behind everything she knew, putting her faith in love and living life the way it’s meant to be lived. Her words bring me strength when I feel weak, courage when I feel scared, belief when I am in doubt, and chutzpah to live the life of my dream, seventy years later. 

Her first letter, shared below for the first time, is dated January 17, 1946, just over seventy years ago today.

TRANSCRIPTION:

January 17, 1946

My Darling, 

I haven't written before because I knew it wouldn't be any use as the letter would get there before you. Darling, I miss you terribly, much more than I ever did before, now I am only living for the day when I get my papers to sail. Right until I got your telegram Tuesday morning, I thought and lived in the hope that you would walk in once more for a few stolen hours, but after I got the telegram I knew you had gone. Thanks for sending it, darling, it was sweet of you, if I hadn't of got it I might still be thinking you would come.

I hope you had a good sailing darling and it wasn't too rough (or does that make you laugh) anyway the main important thing is that you got there safely. P.G. Everything back here is very much the same, I started work back again today at Samuel’s, I couldn't stay at home doing nothing any longer the time just seem to drag. 

I wrote and asked for the address of the Canadian wives club and I've got it now, they meet every first Monday in the month and the next meeting is on Feb 4th so I'm going to go and learn some more about Canada and Canadian cooking (Ha! Ha! That's not funny). 

It's a funny thing darling but you know all the time you were here we never heard our song once, well both last night and the night before I heard someone singing it on the AFN, they must know just how I feel. Every time I go in our room, I nearly start crying and it's worse when I go to bed, the moon is still shining on our bed just like it was that last night you were here. 

On Tuesday night I went to the Odeon and saw "Love Letters" it was a lovely film and reminded me so much of how letters brought us together. I'm going to Oxford on Saturday for the weekend to take Vera back her things, anyway it will make a change for me, I'm going to take my camera and take some snaps to send to you. That reminds me I bought a smashing photo album the other day and I've put in all my snaps but there is still a lot of room, so I'm ready for all the snaps you are going to send me. Now all I want is a scrapbook. 

One of the women in the shop today asked me what I would like for a wedding present so I guess we are still collecting 'em. While I am writing this Dixie is walking all over the room, so you can just imagine. mmmm. I have an answer Danny's letter yet but I will soon, I have written to everybody else. Well darling I guess that's about all for now except that I love you and I won't feel like a whole person again until we are together for good. P.G. 

Half of me is with you, well cheerio darling, God Bless You and All the Luck in the world to you, Au revoir. All my love forever your ever loving wife, 

Rene

I love you – in x’s
P.S. Give my love to the family. Love Rene.