Remembering the important things by L.E.Taylor
MICHAEL KAZINSKI HAD ONLY a half semester to go before high school commencement. But that old demon, procrastination, had him facing the final semester two credit hours short. Back in his sophomore year, he’d drifted into an “Incomplete” for one semester of English Grammar. Then he had to choose between a six week make-up class in summer school and playing American Legion sandlot ball. No contest.
Mike was attentive enough in English Lit and History, but abstract rules and numbers set his mind wandering. So, he’d made up only a couple of hours along the way, and now he was a Class of 1942 senior peering at stark, by-the-numbers, reality.
Mr. Walsh, the boy’s counsellor, a grizzled old-time catcher himself, was sympathetic. He searched for a way that Michael might pay his deficit with the least effort. He found it in an obscure Tuesday and Thursday drill designed for pre-business underclassmen: Penmanship.
Mike was ill at ease and self-conscious among this class of mostly girls. The subject was so simple, it embarrassed him. Supplies were rudimentary. An enameled wooden pen with a cork grip at the business end, a tiny matchbox of silver teardrop shaped nibs, and a thick pack of three-holed lined writing paper in a plain loose leaf binder completed the kit. A built-in inkwell was kept full at each desk courtesy of the Detroit Board of Education. (The nibs were to be dipped into ink only up to the tiny eyelet and must not be pressed so hard while writing as to splay the point, ruining it.)
This is nuts, Mike thought. I know how to write! But two hours a week was what it would take, and that is what he was going to give. The textbook was The Palmer Method. Its purpose seemed to assure that all students would end the term with exactly the same handwriting style, none distinct from any other. Not very American, if you asked Mike.
After the second day of class, Mike was hungry and thirsty and grumpy as he collected his gear at the end of the long, long hour. He stretched out his back muscles and growled the big sigh of a caged beast.
“You don’t seem to be enjoying yourself,” came a soft sympathetic voice from somewhere.
Mike looked around. The girl across the aisle hugged some books and a pale blue loose leaf binder to her soft gray-sweatered bosom. The hint of a smile came to her lips and a fetching sparkle to her eyes.
“No. I guess not,” Mike blurted in someone else’s high, husky voice. “I, I just…”
“You already know how to write, eh?” She smiled, though not unkindly. Her dark auburn hair was straight and long down her back. It framed a comely oval face. The eyes were crystal blue.
“So…?” the girl breathed. The classroom was nearly empty.
A pause. Mike gathered up his stuff and jammed it awkwardly into his own binder, and his pockets, and behind his ears. A beat (an instant – maybe an hour), something amazing happened. Amazing and new “So, uh, I… I, I’m Mike,” he grinned
“Karen,” she laughed. “See-ya, Mike.”
They drifted their own ways, until next Tuesday.
Over the next three weeks, Michael Kazinski’s penmanship improved remarkably. He could hardly wait for two-o’clock on Tuesdays and Thursdays. He focused on his capitalization and keeping his lower case vowels open. He always arranged two sheets of paper, perfectly aligned, onto his desk at the prescribed exact 45 degree angle. Holding the left-top edge with his left hand, he wrote his name and the date top-right, and carefully inscribed the day’s exercises with well-rounded form but no fancy flourishes, within the pale blue lines of each top sheet. The exercise accomplished, he would blot the page, slip it into his binder, and replace it with a fresh virgin page.
One day, he passed a note to Karen.
They began to meet at the Alger Theater on Friday evenings, have a chocolate soda at the corner drug store, and Mike would walk Karen home.
In June, they double-dated to the prom. Commencement went by in a blur, then Mike was on his way to the Marine Corps. For three months, Mike wrote every day, mailed the letters once a week.
I’ll be done with boot camp in August. Will be back in Detroit about the 17th. Then it’s out to the action. Can’t say where. Need to speak with you and your folks before I ship out. Sorry about the penmanship – I’m in a hurry to make the mail grab.
All my love,
Karen’s mom and dad said yes, and Godspeed. The wedding was a family thing at the parish chapel. The honeymoon was two days in a clapboard cottage on the beach at Saugatuck.
In the Second War postal service between the armed forces and the home front carried a high priority. It was called “V-Mail.” With millions of Americans sending and receiving on both ends worldwide, the sheer weight had to be reduced. Standard letters were to be written on flimsy pale blue self-envelopes, one side. The service personnel “outgoing” was all vetted and censored by the brass, then sealed and posted via APO.
Mike and Karen used a lot of V-Mail.
Well into 1944, Corporal Michael Kazinski trudged wearily to the shady side of a palm tree and flopped to the sand. In a hubbub all about him, the Seabees bulldozed iron-black earth while work details buried bodies. The stench of diesel fuel and smoldering death-rot got into the nostrils and the pores. Tanks churned the volcanic sand on their way right and left, to nowhere, while non-coms shouted angry orders to no one.
Mike removed his helmet and plunked it into the black sand between his feet, dome side up. He found his V-Mail folder in the knapsack and pulled out a clean sheet of GI stationery. He wiped sweaty grime off calloused fingertips onto his olive drab t-shirt, held the flimsy paper to the steel helmet at a 45 degree angle, and began to write.
My dearest Karen, The landing went as expected, no better but no worse. I’m sweating in the shade of a coconut palm, filthy and with 3 days beard. Suddenly I’m reminded of our last day together on the white sands of Lake Michigan. Writing to you now, my dear love, I am there again. How beautiful you are! In fact writing to you is my only escape from the unholy madness of war. I am delighted to know that little Anthony is healthy and in the safe keeping of your Mom & Dad, and of his amazing beautiful mother. Excuse the sloppy handwriting. I’m tired and in a hurry. Will write again soon – maybe tomorrow. All my love forever, with a big un-Palmer flourish…ha ha.
Mike never felt the sniper bullet. Anthony never knew his father, except, years later, by what he could read into his ghost-hero’s handsome, forever-young, penmanship.