June 4, 2011
While it may sound like an appeal to emotion and romanticism rather than practicality to protest at the decline of cursive that kids won’t be able to read their grandparents’ diaries, I can’t help but find it a compelling appeal. Recently, my dad, knowing that I’ve become interested in digging into and preserving family history, sent me a box of stuff that someone found in someone’s basement. Paperclipped inside a typed and 3-ring-bound collection of stories and autobiographies was this little envelope.
It’s a letter from my great-great-great-grandfather Albert Darius, who served as an army nurse and then hospital steward during the Civil War, to his son Edward. After the war, as he was finishing medical school, struggling to set up a practice, and being divorced by his wife, Albert Darius was unable ever to keep all of his children with him, and they were fostered out to various neighbors and friends. (Clarence, mentioned in the second paragraph, was my great-great grandfather.)
I would scan it in its entirety and make you all try to read it, but my scanner is broken, so I transcribe it here….
May 27th 1869
My Dear Son,
I have been so very anxiously awaiting a letter from you for some time; at last Mr. Wilson wrote me that you had gone to live in Shelbyville with Mr. O. A. Andrews so now I can know where to write you and I hope you will write me as soon as you get this.
I want to know how you like living in the country–what you do–and all about the people you live with–how many in the family, and their names–and how far you live from the post office and which way. And all about your place there–and how you like it. Mr. Flowers writes that Miner has gone to live with Mr. Evans at Garden City. I hope you and Miner will write to each other and to me often. I expect Clarence will stay with me.
I hope Eddie you will not form bad habits, use no profane language. It is very foolish and wrong and no one will ever use in good society. Don’t use tobbaco (sic) in any form. Shun it as you would poison. And remember to be true and faithful. Ask advice of older persons on all subjects which you may be undecided upon. Strive to please, but act true to principles of right, whether it pleases or displeases, and you will be respected for it.
O Eddie I am very sorry we cannot all be together in our own home. It is almost killing me to think of you and Miner and Clarence and little Eva being scattered so but I know sometime we will be together, if we live, but where I know not. Oh how much I think of you every day and every night. And wish the good angels to watch over you and help you always, and I know they will if you are true and good.
I want you to keep all my letters. You will want them sometime.
I send you Harpers Monthly and in this I send you one dollar, to buy stamps and paper or anything you may need, and I do wish Eddie you would write me when you need money, and I can send you some, a little most any time but remember it is for yourself and no one else–write me if the folks will get you some clothes for summer, and all about everything–write a long letter a whole sheet-full anyway–and then I will be so happy.
From Your Affectionate
Father, A. D. Ballou
Yes, the Constitution has been propagated endlessly in print and online, but stuff like this has not. Our own emotional and personal history, not just the stuff that’s in textbooks, is written in cursive, and risks being lost by a generation who is simply incapable of reading it.