By Pauline Dyson
One of the many supportive roles wives of professional men have played over the years, before the advent of quick email messaging, is that of note-writer, Rolodex-keeper and phone-caller – all in the interest of furthering their husbands' business or political careers.
I was reminded of that when it was reported, on the death of Barbara Bush, that the former first lady used to keep name and address cards of anyone who contacted her husband, President George H.W. Bush. Before even declaring his desire to run as Republican candidate for President, Barbara Bush had the reputation among our Connecticut Republican friends for being a gracious note-writer on behalf of her husband. The social gesture alone seemed to be reason enough to support and vote for the man, at least according to well-placed top executives of Connecticut’s insurance and aircraft companies.
Notes expressing gratitude for some favor, even if only for an event appearance at a political rally or charity fundraiser went a long way toward enhancing the reputation of the sender. Wives instinctively knew this. In the era of separate gender roles, women understood that their husbands had neither time, talent, nor inspiration to carry on such expected social mores.
The recent passing of my physician nephew’s wife reminded me of her propensity to write caring, get well and sympathy notes to his patients when she assumed the role of receptionist in his medical office. Medical groups make contact with patients less personal as recorded phone appointment reminders and online medical records have replaced the office receptionist familiar name and often comforting voice.
A school aide who assisted me and other high school teachers suggested that it would be “nice” to send a Christmas card to all the local people whom we had invited to speak to classes during the school year. That included the lawyer, police, state representative, journalists, political candidates who spoke to the senior government/law class. The aide learned the benefits of such communication from her father who owned a plumbing company in town whose customers were reminded of his ready service to repair leaks when they received the firm’s annual holiday greeting card.
A Buffalo friend whose husband wanted to establish a local theater spent countless hours on the phone as well as writing personal notes seeking donations from potential donors' deep pockets. His endeavor was successful and the theater opened with much fanfare, though even he was unaware of how much his wife’s telephone charm and beautifully penned notes helped realize his ambitious goal. She had kept a file of all the city and suburban culture mavens which came in handy when needed to realize her husband’s dream.
Public relations through a handwritten card is something of the past. Computer messaging has replaced all that. Wives increasingly have their own professional work, and there are fewer Mom and Pop establishments where “the misses” makes the business work more effectively through her contact with loyal customers and clients.
One wonders if we have not lost something in human social contact that is irreplaceable. Receiving robot phone messages or mail ads is not just annoying, but also adds to an accumulation of unpleasant and unwanted daily encounters – all impersonal. A handwritten note or card in the mailbox is now treasured by the recipient, and is so rare as to become an archival artifact.
One friend – a woman, like me, an octogenarian – recently lamented the age of “gracious living” is gone along with written notes, personal contact and kind unexpected gestures that warm the human heart.
Pauline Dyson regrets the demise of handwritten notes.