I watched Papa with fascination. To a 12 year-old boy, the duality of his persona was confusing. He was a tough man; feared by the coal miners of the Monongahela in Western Pennsylvania. But as he wrote his letter, his face was a sea of emotion and his eyes, often watery, reflected a longing that could not find solace. He had not seen his sister in 50 years.
I wondered what he wrote. Since I couldn’t read Italian, I never knew.
For Papa, writing a letter was sacrosanct. He collected fountain pens and assorted inks in odd-shaped bottles. His penmanship was painstakingly elegant; his letters were works of art and were expressions of who he was. Federico Fellini once said, “All art is autobiographical. The pearl is the oyster's autobiography.”
My mother said I inherited my grandfather’s bellicose personality, but Papa also gave me the love of the written word. Unlike any other form of communication, letters express true strength of sentiment. Both message and sender are delivered, powerfully and indelibly. The swirls, dips and strokes of forming ideas bind us to the recipient, and for a moment, we become translucent. Written communication is the essence of human sincerity.
I became a letter writer, just like my grandfather. I had numerous pen pals, and corresponded to relatives, friends, dignitaries, artists, writers, athletes and statesmen all over the world. I collected fountain pens and read historic collections of letters.