Store stood for a long tradition
Every Monday, members of the Press Club of Baton Rouge gather at a downtown meeting hall to hear some newsmaker discuss affairs of the day. But two doors down, at Latil Stationery Co., a quieter piece of news has slowly been unfolding: After 76 years, the store that loyal customers know as Latil’s is closing on Dec. 31.
That might not seem like big news in the scheme of things; every day, across the world, businesses close their doors. But Latil’s exit also seems to diminish, by one more degree, the older and more genteel form of expression that its pens and paper came to represent.
I first came to know Latil’s as a young reporter, when my newspaper office was a few blocks over from Latil’s longtime Third Street location. For much of the day, hunched over a newsroom keyboard, I filed stories for a daily audience of readers. But during occasional lunch hours at Latil’s, I’d find what I needed for more intimate writing — the blank journal for the odd thought, a box of stationery for handwritten letters, a nice, new pen to scribble what I wished.
The journals I bought at Latil’s and filled each year now rest on a shelf, and no lock is needed to protect the private musings inside. My handwriting is so bad that no one else could fathom the passages, anyway.
Some of what I scrawled ended up as essays or stories for newspapers, magazines, or a book. But in crossing from the personal to the public, I was always aware of a line being crossed, and the boundary was easy to see. The division between my public writing life and my private writing life was as clear as the blocks that separated my office from the stationery shop.
But in typing those three words just now, “private writing life,” I’m reminded of just how quaint the concept has become. When my teenage daughter reveals what’s on her mind, it’s not in a letter or a diary, but on a Facebook page intended for multiple readers.
And in this age of blogs and Twitter, what might have once gone into a personal journal is typically a post for the world to see.
Everyone in our family, uses e-mail, of course, and I couldn’t think of doing without it. But e-mails, even those exchanged between close friends, don’t have the same aura of intimacy as a handwritten note; that “forward” button on the computer encourages disclosure, not discretion. A handwritten note can be passed around too, but postal mail carries a strong tradition of restraint, a powerful promise of secrecy.
Yet in an age when people sell their private lives to reality shows, and the Internet routinely makes publicity from the personal, whether anyone really wants secrecy anymore is an open question.
What I’m trying to describe, I suppose, is a code of conduct, a tradition, that has always made a box of stationery or a journal a little bit more than a piece of merchandise on a shelf.
Latil’s was a part of that tradition, and I’m sorry to see it go.
From The Advocate, Baton Rouge, Louisiana • November 27
by Advocate staff writer Danny Heitman