A Note on Stationery

And suddenly the memories revealed themselves

By Brian Doyle | May 22, 2015
Flickr/Missive Press
Flickr/Missive Press


Along with the chime of a typewriter bell, the clink of milk bottles on the porch, and the incredibly kinked and gnarled telephone cord after your teenage sister has been wandering the outer limits of physical possibility with the phone, I sing another quietly fading pleasure in this headlong burled world, the matched set of letter-sheets and envelopes called, collectively, Stationery. For it was a lovely dignified custom, the sending and receiving of stationery, and I savor it when it still presents itself, for it reminds me powerfully of sturdy old hotels, and confident old cities, and my elegant mother, to whom I have for forty years now happily scribbled letters from hotels and inns and lodges in America and Australia and Canada, each time reaching into a desk drawer in the appointed room, and discovering stationery usually in sets of three, and smiling with pleasure, and sitting down at the desk and writing a letter, complete with date flush right and salutation flush left, and text flush left, and parting affections and signature flush right, as I was taught by my mother, lo these many years ago, at the old wooden roll-top desk where my brothers and sister and I laboriously wrote our letters of gratitude to aunts and grandmothers and friends of the family, for the gifts granted us by their largesse—neat notes, carefully handwritten, properly enveloped, and yes you can choose whatever stamps you like at the post office.

I cannot mourn the slow quiet expiration of stationery; for one thing it will surely always persist in corners and pockets of the populace, eventually as a cherished custom of a tiny cadre of believers, a cult of personalized paper products; and for another there are many more substantive things to mourn, like species and freedoms and forests. But I can salute and celebrate it, and bring it back to your attention for a moment—your grandmother’s stationery, faintly scented with lavender and prim expectation; the stationery you received here and there stamped with the proud words The Honorable or Esquire; the rich cream and beige and blue of some stationery, smooth dense thorough colors that keep their verve even after many years in the treasure box; stationery engraved with the wonderful names of massive old hotels in burly old cities, the very name of the hotel giving you a whiff of the whirl and bustle and flavor of that city, sunny or snowy, sea-shot or surrounded by farmland and ranchland as far as the eye can see.

The craft of writing letters is a wide sea, with many beautiful boats—notes and cards, scribble and scrawl, type and sketch, loose-leaf and hand-stamp, and all of these in endless permutations according to passion and personality—but this morning let us appreciate the literature of letterhead, the rustle and grace of stationery, the pleasure with which you open the massive drawer in the old hotel, and find, to your delight, a packet of paper and envelopes, beautifully engraved, a gesture of ancient respect from the establishment to its guest, so that he or she might smile, and sit, and ponder the troops of taxicabs below, the vaulted yearning of the buildings adjacent, the thrum of the city like a hum in your head, and begin a letter to your mother, with the date flush right and the salutation flush left, and love in your heart.

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