Handwritten notes prove it's the thought that counts

Ever since a gently used Apple IIe arrived in our home around Christmas 1988, my handwriting has deteriorated.

Back then, brides used to hire me to address wedding invitations with my artistic calligraphy. I've got to say, when I discovered a computer could replicate the beauty of calligraphy alphabets, the artist inside me felt challenged. And so it went.

A few weeks ago, I received a letter from my parents, hand-addressed by my 91-year-old father. Before opening the envelope, I just stood there looking at my name in his distinctive writing, spellbound with pleasure. Even the unopened envelope held meaning as something special from Dad.

Furthermore, these days I seem to be particularly in tune to talk devoted to the importance of handwritten notes as a way to let folks know you care.

We haven't sent Christmas cards via mail for years. In recent days, I've found myself joyful and even more attentive to Christmas cards as they've arrived in the mail with familiar handwriting from Florida, Indiana, New Jersey and South Carolina, a contrast to others with unfamiliar script from Naperville.

And before reading the tiny text on one computer-generated Christmas letter, I found myself attracted to the handwritten note across the bottom. "Stephanie - I know you are around - our cards don't come back. Let me hear from you. Pete."

This year, with all the cash I've been saving at the gas tank, I've purchased cards and postage stamps to get back in touch with "before Naperville" friends before they take me off their list.

In this unpredictable world of distractions, I'm also mindful of a quote attributed to American wit Josh Billings: "Consider the postage stamp: its usefulness consists in the ability to stick to one thing till it gets there."

Add to it that some time ago a friend mentioned a good book titled "Leave Nothing Unsaid." I recently discovered its companion website where its writer professes the importance of the written word.

While searching online, I also happened upon a bunch of posts that support our yearning for mementos that communicate "it's the thought that counts."

Then wondrously, I found myself deeply touched when I couldn't resist opening an unrecognizable email from Kerry Smith, a man who used work for my father's construction business.

Kerry noted he'd visited my parents on Dec. 5 to present them with a handmade "Crookston Family Heirloom." He'd created a plaque, of sorts, for their great-grandson, Isaac, on a two-inch slice from a freshly cut walnut tree.

He wrote, "For generations to come, Don J. Crookston's roofing hatchet, first invented by his father (A.J. Crookston) in 1945, is now ready to be displayed, keeping it in the Crookston family for future generations to enjoy and to learn about the World War II Navy veteran who moved to Muncie, Indiana, in 1948 to start his own shingle roofing business with great success, a Crookston Family Practice ending with Jim Crookston."

Kerry added that he'd routed out a secret compartment in the back of the plaque to provide "a unique place to hide important papers."

His email also recounted considerable connections to my father over the decades, with many references to his own personal challenges and health battles.

"I call your dad 'my roofing mentor,' as he once invited me into his office located in his basement to show how to properly make out an estimation," Kerry wrote, adding that he'd recently talked to my brother, Jim. "Your brother told me a few weeks ago that he recently sold his end of the business, closing out your dad's legacy."

Kerry went on to describe his departure. "Don escorted me to the garage side door where I felt the need to give him a little hug, telling, 'Don, I love you. Thanks for not judging like everyone else does.'"

Long story short, Kerry suspects his recent visit with my folks could be his last.

"The chapter was closed by giving back the hatchet he retired into my hands nearly 15 years earlier." Kerry continued. "Well, I didn't really give it back to Don, but to the little boy I met last summer drawing with chalk in Don's driveway, presenting my mentor with $500 cash for a debt owed for over 20 years. Thing is, when one door seemingly closes, another door opens …"

'Tis the season we receive unexpected gifts. And more than ever, I'm thinking it's the thought that counts.

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