Envelope from Camp Maxey.
My father spent a lot of time writing, starting at a delicate age. Early on he aspired to be an author, kept a diary for many years, wrote poems and stories and at least one novel. And he had handsome penmanship, too: a standard, legible cursive with only a few peculiarities—including a “p” with a tallish upstroke and a formal “r.”
But my dad could also type like a maestro. I remember as a boy hearing the sound of his old manual typewriter clattering away in his study. I remember asking him to show me how he made that magical thing work. And I remember later thinking it impossible to type so fast (120 words a minute, as I recall). Then in high school I took a typing class, and before too long I could type nearly as fast as Dad.
Dad’s first letter home.
Still, at least early on, my father tended to write all his personal letters by hand. Like the daily letters home he wrote from basic training in 1943.
After he died I discovered that at some point Dad had typed up all those 1943 letters—keyboarded them into his Mac, saved them to floppy disks, printed out all the pages, collected them into loose-leaf binder. The letters span a period from May 9th to July 31st and take up 212 typewritten pages. A cover page is titled “Letters Home.”
Some time later I found a box containing the original handwritten letters he’d sent home to Amarillo. Each page of U. S. Army stationery is completely covered with my father’s airy, twenty-year-old hand. Written mostly in pencil, his letters tell of every mundane event, list the books and magazines he’s reading, relate the things he’s thinking about. Some of his youthful observations are stirring, almost poetic. He writes, for instance, during a time of waiting:
When a day is with me, it stays so long. But when it is away from me, it seems to have lasted so short a time.
The circus comes to town.
I also have here a journal for the year 1947, a year of uncertainty for my father—a summer home after college, a time of girl troubles—that includes a remarkable page devoted entirely to a visit to the circus. You can almost feel from the angle of the penmanship his delight with the event before even reading the words:
The show itself was furiously thrilling. From the opening act of wild animal trainers to the closing parade of wrinkled, dust-covered elephants, one could not catch the many thrills with the eyes and ears.
(Dad was a man of wonder.)
But perhaps the most touching thing I found earlier today while going through a box old family keepsakes: his handwritten description—in white ink on the black page of a photo album—of a picture he’d taken of his beloved dog Bill:
Snow and a beautiful day enabled me to get this splendid shot of Bill. I got Bill in 1930 when he could hardly walk. I snapped this the winter before he was 10. This is the once-in-a-lifetime picture that turned out exactly like you wanted it to. Bill could sit up, clap his paws, play hide and seek and do other things once, but now he can still sit up. He is a swell dog.
Photo of my dad’s dog, Bill.
(At one point the angle of his writing changes, as does its vividness, where he’s paused to replenish his ink.)
Dad’s handwriting was so legible that in 1997 I modeled a font after it. I called it Professor, after his eventual distinguished career—a career that, sure enough, involved a lot of writing (and literary translation). Right away he installed the font on his Mac and took to using it to personalize his correspondences while still typing at breakneck speed. The relative popularity of Professor tickled him no end.
Until the end.
Happy Father’s Day, Dad.
* * *
Work continues on Military Scribe font, meantime, due for release on the Fourth of July. Since it simulates the troop rosters of the His Majesty’s Tenth Regiment of Foot (circa late 1770s), I thought I’d give you a sneak peek at its current state by list some actual regimental names.
A draft specimen of Military Scribe (coming July 4th).
Tags: A Leslie Willson, basic training, cursive, Fathers Day, handwriting, handwritten letters, historical letters, legible, letters home, penmanship, Professor font, World War II, WWII