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Repnow: Celebrating the joy of handwritten notes

By Staff | Oct 10, 2014

The note was postmarked June 5, 2014, Seattle, WA. A Forever stamp, featuring reindeer prancing among the stars and moon, was placed in the upper right-hand corner and her return address label was in the upper left-hand corner. It was a letter addressed to me from my Aunt Marjorie Scholl who lived in Monroe, Wash. It caught me by surprise, as she had passed away on May 30, 2014, because it was addressed with her handwriting.

I opened the envelope to discover a notecard with a scatter of purple and yellow pansies. Inside was a thank you note started by Aunt Marjorie thanking me for the many notes and recipes I had sent her over the years. Then it stopped, and the handwriting became different – it was now that of her daughter, Linda. Linda said that her mother had penned this first line before she passed away, and now she was finishing it for her. I was touched, and inside were recipes that she had written out on green note cards. Recipes that she had recounted during her visit in May when she came with my younger brother, Kelly, for my dad’s burial. On that morning in May, we abided on the sweeping, fern green prairie north of Mercer touched by the sun’s warmth; visiting after the burial and savoring Scandinavian almond cake and rhubarb punch while recollecting memories of dad as well as recipes. She said, “When I arrive home, I am going to send you another good recipe for when the relatives gather.”

She did just that. At once I experienced the power, joy and contentment of the written and mailed word. As I sat at our dining room table, I felt her presence. I was unable to attend her funeral and had regretted that. But now her note brought comfort and peace. It has been said that the pansy represents what is in our thoughts, and we rely on purity of thought not to see a crooked world. Pansies also represent love and thoughtfulness in its highest form. A sense of peace and gratefulness swept over me, and once again I was reminded of the beauty that comes when you have a bonded relationship to your aunt.

All of my mom’s sisters have been letter-writers. In fact, in my collection of treasured letters, I have several from each of them. They started writing as young girls to each other as they left the family farm. Their mother, Lydia, was also was a committed letter-writer, inscribing with a lead pencil. Aunt Marjorie and her husband, Uncle Clarence, made many trips back to North Dakota for family visits. Very often those visits involved her and me spending time in the kitchen cooking. She was an excellent baker and delighted in making a wonderful apple turnover which only had you wishing she could visit every week. After their visit, I could always count on a written note from her with some of her tried and true recipes.

As a culture, we now seem obsessed with social media. It is wonderful, I will admit, but there is simply nothing that can replace the feeling of a personal note or letter. Written in your own handwriting, and upon selected stationery, it shows how much you care. It is now an authentic gift in this digital world. My mother protected many, many letters – especially those from her mother. I never knew my grandma Lydia because she passed away before my mother was married. I did, however, one summer when I was home from college, find a bundle of letters tied with a pink ribbon on my bed. They were placed there by my mom with a note saying “I thought you would perhaps enjoy reading these.”

I relished them and spent hours reading and rereading these yellowed letters with the vintage stamps. I gleaned so much from the engaging, beautiful and unflinching written notes that had passed between them while mom attended Bethesda Hospital School of Nursing in St. Paul, Minn. My grandma talked about the sugar and rubber stamps of World War II, the family dog, the cuteness of my Aunt Joyce and the joy she brought as the youngest child. She told tales of the twins, Orville and Oliver, and the deeds of their brothers Earl and Curtis, and how Grace loved to be with her dad. In fact, she went to the field with him – both of them wearing bib overalls. Grandpa liked a bit of “snus” that he kept in his pocket, and so did Grace – however, hers being in the form of raisins! Here is a treasured line about Eleanor and Marjorie, “Marian, your sisters are nothing like you – they can thrash all day, milk cows, help in the house, yet come evening, they still want to chase men! I have never seen anything like it. They keep me on my toes.”

Her observations as a mother were wonderful, and she took the time to gently thread a note of optimism that ran throughout her letters. She talks of the smiles of the children, grandpa making her laugh, thinking about the summer garden in February, and the color pink she wishes to paint their bedroom when they have the money.

Emily Dickinson once wrote “A letter is a joy of earth – it is denied to the Gods.” How right she was! One of the very late acts that my Aunt Marjorie did before she passed away will always be a personal keepsake of kindness to me. It, too, has left a lasting impression with me.

Red Top Salad

This is the last recipe that Aunt Marjorie sent to me. It is a salad that has stood the test of time, and when paired with straight top or scalloped bowls, it allows you to enter potlucks with ease. The ribbons and layers this salad creates makes it an attractive jewel. In fact, the red top reminds me of the garnet, which was Aunt Marjorie’s January birthstone. This makes a large serving; if you prefer to make it smaller, simply cut it in half.

6 oz. lime Jello

2 cups hot water

16 oz. miniature marshmallows

2 cups cream whipped

1 cup mayonnaise

2 cups finely chopped celery

16 oz. cream cheese

1 cup of chopped walnuts

1 cup drained crushed pineapple

6 oz. cherry Jello

Dissolve lime Jello in boiling hot water, add marshmallows and let melt. In another bowl, place softened cream cheese and beat. Add mayonnaise and beat until fluffy. Add to slightly cooled Jello along with pineapple and whipped cream. Place in refrigerator until firm. Then top with 6 oz. cherry Jello which has been dissolved in 3 cups hot water. Cool Jello and pour over top of mixture and allow to set.

Overnight Fruit Salad

Overnight Fruit Salad is the first recipe that she had sent me when I was 9 years old. It was from her mother, Lydia Christensen, my grandmother, of Mercer. It is an easy, tasty salad and reminiscent of an earlier time period. If you garnish it with a few maraschino cherries, you can skip the hibiscus blossom tucked behind your ear. This is all you will need to capture some undivided attention at the next potluck.

1 3-oz. package cream cheese

3 tablespoons maraschino cherry juice

1 teaspoon of lemon juice

2 tablespoons of powdered sugar

cup salad dressing

2 cups crushed pineapple, well drained

pound of marshmallows finely cut

Combine cheese, cherry juice, lemon and powdered sugar and salad dressing. Whip until smooth. Blend in remaining ingredients and blend well. Let this stand at room temperature for several hours. Then place in an attractive serving bowl and refrigerate until set. This can also be poured into those little metal molds that you have hanging on to for years. Serve on a lettuce leaf for a beautifully pulled-together presentation, and don’t forget to top each one in the language of maraschino. You can always count on maraschino cherries for a bit of bling!

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