Written by? Born in?

After viewing the Oscar-nominated film based on Lee Israel’s memoir Can You Ever Forgive Me? I picked up the book that inspired the movie, a slim volume describing Israel’s short career as a forger and seller of letters written by famous people like Noel Coward and Dorothy Parker. Israel was found out by the FBI and punished for her crimes.

As I read about the world of autograph and ephemera collectors hoodwinked by Israel back in the early 1990s, and enjoyed the wonderfully pithy, fake letters she wrote (reproduced as visuals in the book), I found myself nostalgic for pre-email days, when letter-writing was much more of an art. I recalled typing in the 1990s on my own personalized letterhead and the thrill of opening my mailbox each day to collect letters, both business and personal, written to me.

Email—which looks pretty much the same no matter who’s writing it—is unlikely ever to enjoy the collectibility of old, through-the-mail correspondence, which means famous people of the past (though deceased) squarely hold the corner on this particular category of pricelessness.

I remember similar thoughts when local doctors (GPs) stopped handling births (this also, perhaps, in the 1990s) in Winterset.

George Stout, leader of the famous WWII “Monuments Men,” came into the world in Winterset, in 1897, as did legendary screen actor John Wayne, in 1907, my father James Graham in 1921, and my own children in ’75, ’79, and ’82. Our town takes great pride in the accomplishments of its noteworthy native sons, honoring John Wayne’s birthday every year with a big celebration. Now, sadly, no one (unless via an at-home or emergency) is born here.

I guess it’s up to those who took their first breath in Madison County in the past (hear me, Fons kids!) to distinguish themselves and keep us on the map. Maybe it’s up to me to pick up a nice piece of stationery and write a pithy note—maybe to local friend Brian Downs, director of the John Wayne Birthplace Museum, who alway pens his thank-yous in ink.







12 Responses

  1. Brian Downes
    | Reply

    Marianne, I am deeply touched by your post. Yes, the personal message is incredibly important. I’ve had a number of people say that they save all their correspondence from me. Not because it’s so eloquent or inspiring but simply because no one else seems willing to go to the trouble.
    All of my heroes were prolific letter writers; Buffalo Bill, Will Rogers Ronald Reagan and John Wayne. And Jesse James was as skilled with a pen as he was with his pistol. Real men–and women–send notes and letters. To do anything less is highly disrespectful. You are a real woman.

  2. Jan Dunn
    | Reply

    Thank you, Marianne, for a wonderful reminder of the days when we corresponded with one another through hand written cards and letters. I have saved a few letters that my mother sent to my brother during the Vietnam War. They have become a family treasure. Thank you, Marianne, for doing what you do!

  3. Janet C. Wright
    | Reply

    I am making cards –with envelopes this year and sending out at least one per week–yep–handwritten. I did this last year–but sporadically and got back some wonderful comments–like–” Wow! You cared enough to really send me a card.” Sad –isn’t it–that e-mails have become so commonplace that people think we don’t care.

  4. Ann Ragsdale
    | Reply

    Letter writing was something I remember my family doing growing up in the ‘50’s and ‘60’s. I wrote home every week in college and my mother saved them all. I now reread them with much pleasure and enjoyment. Reading other old family letters from centuries ago makes me feel like I know those people personally. It’s a lost art and one I’m sad to see disappearing.

  5. Judy Neal
    | Reply

    I too still enjoy receiving cards and letters. Our children were also born in Winterset in 75 & 77. Being the only babies they had so much attention at the hospital.

  6. Janie
    | Reply

    A handwritten letter or card is such a treasure. My father, born in 1920, sent me a card every week when I was in college. And he wrote me letters when we lived in California and he was in a nursing home in Michigan some 30 years later. They were the best. The older I get, the more I appreciate his “voice” from the past, still lovingly held on paper. I hope my grandchildren will enjoy as well. Thanks for the reminder, Marianne.

  7. Jan Jordan
    | Reply

    Hi Marianne, I was born in Winterset. If I ever become famous I’ll make sure you get credit for pointing out my birthplace.

    • Marianne Fons
      | Reply

      Jan, you’re already famous to me!

  8. Mary Ann Scanlon
    | Reply

    I treasure the few cards and notes I have in my Mother’s handwriting. And I still am one of the anchor customers for my local Gold Crown Hallmark. It gives me so much pleasure to send off cards with a little note even on non occasions.

  9. Kayla Hawkins
    | Reply

    Yes!!!! I love a handwritten letter or note (and I am one of those who has kept every one of those hand written notes on awesome cards..from Brian) 🙂 I am as guilty as the next in not sending a note often enough.. perhaps that should be a short course for some of us.. Something else I love?? A phone call.. instead of a text.. (we chatted about that once).. thanks for the reminder Marianne!

    • Marianne Fons
      | Reply

      Yes, Kayla, I remember. On the phone, in person, in writing. These are the best ways to connect.

  10. pat roth
    | Reply

    Email and texting often makes me feel like I am being dismissed. People spend endless hours posting on social media, reading all this drivel, but don’t have 10 minutes to pick up the phone.

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