Quiet Desperation

A handwritten letter can speak volumes


Once a week, I go fishing. I throw a few lines out, and I never know what I am going to catch.

I received an extraordinary, handwritten, four-page letter (with enclosures) from a reader named Janet who lives in Franktown.

This column is in its seventh year. I have received hundreds of emails, and a few letters, but nothing like Janet’s letter.

She reminded me that she had written to me once before, last winter. She called it a “fan letter.”

I’ve mentioned before that I’m from Michigan, and it turns out she is from Michigan too.

“I grew up in the most geographically dull part of the state, in the center of the mitten, in the small town of Alma.”

I looked it up. The population was less than 10,000 in 2010, and it’s just a little over six square miles.

Janet is familiar with Lake Superior State University in Sault Ste. Marie, and Lake Superior State University’s annual list of banished words. She referred to the column I wrote last year about some of the banished words and expressions that are still being overused.

“Transparency” for one.

The 2019 list is out and it includes “POTUS,” “FLOTUS,” and “SCOTUS,” and one that is long overdue.

“Legally drunk.” Think about it.

I sent Janet a letter and thanked her, and told her that her letter reminded me of Ruth Todd (1909-2006), a dear friend whom I visited on Sunday mornings for eight years.

I fixed breakfast for us and then we spent a couple of hours in her living room. Invariably she reminisced, and she had a lot to reminisce about, including dates with big band leader Eddie Duchin, and encounters with Buckminster Fuller and Carl Sandberg.

Without fail, Ruth handwrote a thank-you note or letter every week.

She expressed herself beautifully. However, her lettering was very tiny, as if it had written by Tinkerbell, whom she might have been.

She was a very petite woman — a trace — with a squeak for a voice, the result of paralyzed vocal cords. To go along with it, she was from North Carolina, so her squeak had a Southern accent.

Everyone is a story. That might sound like an exaggeration, but it’s true. Not everyone is an entertaining story, but there’s a narrative in everyone I see.

I met with my editor for our annual conversation over coffee. (Mine, black. His, polluted with cream and sugar.) He encouraged me to write more human-interest stories, and I am all for it.

I immediately thought of Janet, and her four-page letter.

I could tell by what she wrote and how she wrote it that she is thoughtful, intelligent, and that she has a sense of humor.

“I have only been to the University of Michigan campus once when I was invited to some kind of med-school, fraternity special weekend. I was duly impressed with the historic, gorgeous campus — not my date.”

I made a couple of assumptions about Janet. One, about her age: she said she “grew up in the quiet 1950s.” For another, she prefers the intimacy of a handwritten letter to the expediency of an email.

It shouldn’t surprise me but it does: the reach of what I write sometimes, and eyes, like Janet’s, that follow along.

Craig Marshall Smith is an artist, educator and Highlands Ranch resident. He can be reached at craigmarshallsmith@comcast.net.


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