You never know if somebody’s going to like something you wrote about ’em—and the better and more accurate the piece is, the more you worry. I once profiled a very crusty blacksmith, and portrayed him worts and all. I arrived at his shop after the piece came out—I can’t remember why I went there in person—and he walked up to me with a stern face, stuck his hand out—a giant hand I had described in Chicago Tribune Magazine as a “meat mitt”—and squeezed my hand until I sank to my knees in his gravel parking lot.
“Your article made my wife happy,” he said from above, a smile finally coming to his face. “And that makes me happy.”
Almost always, people liked what I wrote. More than being flattered, people like to be seen. I am pretty good at that.
But nobody liked anything I wrote more than Ernie Casper, the hairpiece maker I told you about yesterday.
Ernie tried to thank me for my article by sending me a brand new shirt and tie in the mail, from Marshall Field’s.
I sent it back to him, because I couldn’t accept it.
I got this this letter back.
It begins with a reference to the returned gift:
I wasn’t surprised at all suspecting the honor you possess. I wanted to make myself feel good in appreciating all the effort you put in doing this article and surprising me at how wonderful it was received.
Making it possible for others to shower me with aclcolades of all kinds of engrashating remarks of praise.
The subject matter difficult as it was you write it so well weaving the thoughts together you are a genius.
I do have your autograph—so I won’t ask for it, at the pinecal of your success.
David you awoke the giants in me. I will never be the same.
I will never forget you.
Good luck on your journey through life.
Your friend always,
Letters like that are not why a writer writes. But they sure do touch a fella, 17 years later and long after their writer is gone.
Much, much more importantly: Don’t you think that reading something detailed and loving about an obscure person who nevertheless has real pride and dignity—don’t you think that’s just really good for all of us? Like, for our souls, and for the love of one another?
And don’t you think not reading anything like that—because really, who is publishing such stuff these days—leaves us bereft, in an important way?
Goddamnit, I do.
Here’s to you, Ernie Casper. I will never forget you, either.