TBA Law Blog

Posted by: William Haltom on Nov 1, 2015

Journal Issue Date: Nov 2015

Journal Name: November 2015 - Vol. 51, No. 11

Like most folks, I began to learn to write when I was in the first grade. Under the tutelage of my first grade teacher, Mrs. Oswald, I gripped in my right hand a giant pencil about the size of a Louisville slugger baseball bat and painstakingly printed each of the 26 letters of the alphabet onto large thick news print in my Big Chief tablet.

Soon I began to put those letters together to form words, and after that, I began to put those words together to form sentences, and by the end of first grade, I had this wonderful new ability. I could put down my thoughts on a piece of paper and share them with my parents, my grandparents and my friends.

In the second grade, my teacher, Mrs. McMurtry, taught me to write in cursive, or longhand. The pencils got smaller, the paper thinner, and words seemed to flow.
When I was 10 years old, my father gave me my first pen — a Cross pen. My mother gave me my very own set of stationery. At the top of each powder blue page were four words already printed for me. It was my full name: WILLIAM HOWARD HALTOM JR.

I was quite proud of that stationery, and I began to write letters. There were thank-you notes to my grandparents for Christmas gifts. There was correspondence from summer camp. (“Dear Mom and Dad, I hope you are well. I miss you.”) And then there were my first love letters, particularly to my first crush, a beautiful fellow fifth-grader named Sharon.

When I was in high school, I got my very first typewriter. We bought it from Sears, because in those days, my parents and I bought absolutely everything from Sears — clothes, appliances, my tv set, the lawnmower I used to cut the grass, and the bicycle I rode on my paper route.

The only possessions we had that were not from Sears were our house and a 1957 Chevrolet.

Once I got my first typewriter in the 10th grade I began to both write more and write less.

I wrote more because I was typing term papers and articles for the school newspaper, The Rampage. (Our high school mascot was a ram, hence the clever title.)
But I wrote less, because I stopped taking that Cross pen in hand and writing in cursive on my personalized stationery.

Oh, there was still the occasional love letter to another pretty girl I was pursuing, and there would be the thank-you notes I would send at the insistence of my parents, but writing in the truest sense was something I was doing less and less.

I lugged my typewriter with me to college and then to law school, and by then, almost all of my writing was a process of pecking a keyboard rather than putting pen to paper and letting the words flow.

When I became a lawyer nearly 40 years ago, I discovered another way to “write” without even using a typewriter, much less a pen. In my first week of law practice, my employer gave me a small portable Dictaphone. I could just hold it to my mouth like one of those walkie-talkies I used to own as a child and just recite the words of a letter or a brief into the tape recorder.

I would give the tape to my very first secretary, a wonderful young woman named Carolyn, who would then sit at her typewriter wearing a headset, hear my words on the tape, and type them for me.

I once again had my own stationery, but at the top was the name of my bosses (Thomason, Crawford and Hendrix), and my name was under it in very small letters at the bottom of a list of several names.

I still had my typewriter on my desk back in my apartment, but it began to gather dust, and at some point, in the early years of my marriage, it was sold at a yard sale.
I miss it.

As time went by, I found a new way to write, and this time, it required a little more physical effort on my part. The new-fangled writing device was a personal computer, and for a very long time, I frankly resisted using it. I wanted to stick with my Dictaphone and my trusty secretary.

And then, about 10 years ago, everybody in the world began to use email. Again, as an emerging old curmudgeon, I resisted, but I had to finally give in, as e-mail soon became about the only way I could communicate with anyone in the world.

And suddenly, I was typing again on a keyboard.

And then, the keyboards got dramatically smaller, as I found myself typing not on my personal computer, but on … my phone!

If you had told me 20 years ago that my phone would be about the size of a credit card and that I would use it as a typewriter and my principle source of not only communication but research, photography and music, I would have asked you what you had been smoking.

While my typewriter has now returned in a micro format, my old Cross pen and personal stationery haven’t seen too many words in the 21st century.

But during the past month, I received two wonderful items in the mail. Not in my e-mail, mind you, but in snail mail delivered to my office by an agent of the United States government, otherwise known as a “mailman” (a redundancy) or a “mailwoman” (an oxymoron).

These two items of correspondence were hand-written notes sent to me by two of my fellow lawyers. They were both very nice thank-up notes for my recent column about Atticus Finch. The notes were written in cursive, or longhand, on personalized stationery (a note card, actually) with the full name of the writer boldly printed at the top of the card.

It was beautiful personalized stationery, just like my mother gave me when I was 10 years old.

Both notes were wonderfully brief and thoughtful. It brought to mind one of my favorite quotes about writing, specifically Mark Twain’s apology in a hand-written letter: “I apologize for writing you such a long letter. I did not have time to write you a short one.”

But the two hand-written notes I received were very short, indicating that the writer had thought about what he was going to say before he took his pen in hand and wrote down the words.

The notes were two of the nicest compliments I have ever received. What was so flattering was the fact that these two lawyers I know had each taken the time to pull out their personal stationery, take pen in hand, and write me a note.

They could have fired me off a quick e-mail, hit the “send” button, and get the message to me in a matter of seconds. But they decided to take a little time.

In the process, these two lawyers did something more than send me a very nice thank-me note for something I had written — which I actually had not written, but rather had dictated.

As I read their notes, I remembered those gifts my mother and father gave me when I was 10 years old: a Cross pen and my very own personalized stationery.
It made me realize the power of a hand-written note.

And so, while I admit I am dictating the words of this column, I am also doing something else.

I have ordered myself a set of personalized note cards. I don’t need a new pen. That beautiful Cross my parents gave me over 50 years ago is still sitting on my desk.

When my note cards arrive, I am going to take my Cross pen in hand, compose my thoughts, and write out in longhand some words of thanks and love to my wife, my children and my friends. And they will be short notes, not long ones.

Bill Haltom BILL HALTOM is a shareholder with the firm of Lewis Thomason. He is a past president of the Tennessee Bar Association and a past president of the Memphis Bar Association. Read his blog at www.billhaltom.com.