-by Greg Hoots-
Letter-writing has become a lost art in more ways than one. Once, the majority of Americans corresponded by mail with their relatives or to those with whom they conducted business. Elementary schools went to great lengths to teach the etiquette of letter-writing, be it formatting, style, or content.
I recall when I was a kid, my mom wrote to her mother every week. Likewise, each week we received a letter from Grandma. I regret that we did not have the foresight to save my Grandma’s letters.
In addition to teaching the skills of letter-writing, the elementary schools used to teach penmanship. In the early years, a higher-level skill was taught, perfect penmanship. My dad had learned perfect penmanship in elementary school somewhere along the way, and he always wrote with a flourish. He liked pens that really poured the ink to the paper.
Today, we are all less whole because of the disappearance of perfect penmanship. In the 21st century, the schools barely teach penmanship at all. I suppose that from a practical viewpoint, keyboarding is a more important skill, but nonetheless, the loss of the penmen in our society heralds a loss in our creativity.
The Flint Hills Special Digital Magazine is pleased to present a group of nine letters written by Alma, Kansas native, Max Palenske, from his home in Ocean Park, California, all addressed to his niece, Rita Stella of Omaha, Nebraska. When the letters were written, Max Palenske was sixty-one years old while his niece, Rita was a high school girl. The letters demonstrate the strong family bond enjoyed by the Palenske family, the descendants of Kansas pioneers, Louis and Emma Thoes Palenske.
Rita Stella Faulders provided these nine letters to the Special, and each one is remarkable. The letters are dated between January 20, 1945 through September 18, 1946. While other letters may exist, these are the ones which survived time.
Rita always recalled her Uncle Max as being a dashing, handsome man. When reading the letters, it’s obvious that his sincerity, quick wit, and friendliness were probably factors that made Max an even more handsome man. In the letter dated March 19, 1945, Max Palenske talks of the war, “In the war, our dreams are getting better all the time. With Germany taken care of, we can all concentrate on the Japs and should hasten the end of this terrible killing. Hope it will be soon. Now days, the men are either too young or too old, and the girls have to either hold them off or hold them up. Neither is so good.”
Finally, the first three letters presented in this article reveal a secret about Max. He was an accomplished student of perfect penmanship. One letter is printed in its entirety, two letters are written in cursive handwriting, and a half-dozen are typewritten. Looking at Max’s handwritten letters, and particularly the printed letter, leaves the reader in disbelief that they are handwritten.
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