The name Gautreaux
With her new script face Gautreaux, Victoria Rushton brings the initial ‘G’ out of hiding.
My grandmother has fantastic cursive handwriting. When she sends me a card with a check in it for my birthday, the card always lays out the formula for how much money I am getting: $20 for being born, and another $1 for every year since. In her cards, she uses quotations in a way that I’ve come to accept as an artistic interpretation of language. She sends me care packages sometimes, of whatever she has around that she thinks I deserve. Two little porcelain egg-shaped bowls and a toiletry kit from Emirates Airlines. A women’s magazine from 1974, unused crochet patterns that had belonged to her mother, Wanda, and some peanut brittle. Most recently, a wooden plaque that said “10 Rules for a Happy Marriage” (that had strangers’ names on the back in pencil but my name and my now-husband’s name and our to-be anniversary written over them more boldly in her handwriting with white-out) and a little pig that I had once carved for her out of soap, its ears broken off in transit. I don’t feel the need to collect many type specimens and lettering samples, but I keep every note, envelope, and label that she's written on for later study. My grandmother’s name is Jean G. Woodhouse. Her name was Jean Gautreaux until she was nineteen, when she got married and became Jean G. Livingston, and remained Jean G. Livingston after she divorced. When she got married again, she became Jean G. Woodhouse. She’s been divorced again since the year I was born, and she’s still Jean G. Woodhouse. I feel a sadness for the transience of her name that I’m not sure she shares. She tells me that her father, Roy Gautreaux, was the only one of his family to spell it with an x, because when he was in the first grade and learning to write his name, the teacher told him his name had an x at the end, so that became how he always wrote it, even on official documents. Very few people are named Gautreaux. About a year into our relationship, the man I love sent me a little present. The package showed up on my office desk, where I never got mail—an unfamiliar return address with an eBay receipt inside. It was a copy of The Script Letter by Tommy Thompson, a book from 1965 with a red cover, a little scuffed with yellowing pages, but its cloth binding keeping everything together just fine. He told me he had a copy of it that he liked to use as a reference when he was doing lettering—and now so do I. A few months ago I was on the phone with my grandmother, telling her about how I was sewing the dress I would wear to the courthouse to get married. She said to me, I couldn’t tell how earnestly, “How come you have so many talents and I don’t have any?!” She thought for a second, and conceded, “No, that’s not true, I’m very good at documenting and organizing.” She was a legal secretary from when she became a single mom in the 1970s until she retired six years ago. I remember in third grade being in awe of how fast a typist she was—her long nails going click click click—at a time when it took me twice as long to pick out keys than to write my homework by hand. It took us a little while, but now my grandmother can explain to people what I do for a living. “Victoria makes fonts, like on your computer.” She may not say so, but she’s still pretty tech-literate, or at least in the ways that suit her purposes. She has an iPhone and an iPad, takes pictures with the former constantly, and sends me (and my mom and sister and an assemblage of other friends and family members) usually at least one but up to several emails every day. They’re sometimes chain emails of jokes or a link to a recipe, but most often they’re photographs of things she’s seen or noted or has in her house, with a date and description in the subject line and little or no other text. They’re correspondence meets inventory.
From: Jean G. Woodhouse To: Victoria Rushton Subject: Stacy & Simon Rushton Stacy and Simon Rushton, January 1989. Attachments: Three photos of a gold framed picture of my parents, from slightly different angles.
From: Jean G. Woodhouse To: Victoria Rushton Subject: Rhode Island—“table” June 2015 February 2016 My table was purchased at an antique shop in Rhode Island for $35.00. Brad Romero in New Iberia, LA is refinishing it for $200.00. Attachments: Six photos of a drop-leaf table and a man I do not know.
From: Jean G. Woodhouse To: Victoria Rushton Subject: Amarillos blooming this morning. March 25, 2016 My amarillos blooming today. Attachments: Five close-ups of pink flowers in bright sunlight in front of her orange house.Occasionally there’s an entry of the slightly less mundane:
From: Jean G. Woodhouse To: Victoria Rushton Subject: 2017—Courthouse wedding, Baltimore, MD On March 31, 2017 Victoria Rushton and Dai Foldes married at the courthouse in Baltimore, Maryland. Attachments: A photo of a plaque in the lobby that she noticed when we were waiting for the car.Her emails are a searchable record of her life, and all of us who orbit within it, that I happen to be privy to. Between them, my four biological grandparents—and it always takes me a minute to tally this up—have been married seven times and divorced four. Growing up, I joked to my happily married parents that they hadn't inherited the divorce gene, and that I hoped it didn't skip a generation and get passed on to me, as if that were a thing. Getting ready for bed one night and chatting with my fiancé about some finer point of our day at the courthouse, I quipped, “You only get married for the first time once!” “Is that something that people from families with a lot of divorces say?” he asked. “Sure, but it’s also just true for everyone,” I said. He agreed. I used a couple of pages of The Script Letter as a reference for lettering I did on a Christmas card, which later I fleshed out more and more into a typeface. I remember thinking, “Great, this will be the typeface that I can use to finally explain to my grandmother what a typeface is.” I know she prides herself on her handwriting that I like so much, and she points out cursives and script lettering to me. I know she’ll like this. I decided to call it Gautreaux, for that reason and because no one seems to have named any software Gautreaux. Plus, I'm glad it has an x, because the x I drew for the typeface is awesome. I have one sister, and I’ve wondered since I was little if my parents were disappointed to only have daughters who wouldn’t carry on the family name. I know in my rational head that they wouldn’t trade who we are for anything. But I couldn't ever help but doubt, and carried that incorrect little shard of guilt with me always. When it dawned on me I didn’t have to change my name, I was absolutely sure I didn't want to. Weird what kids absorb. It stings to think of my name being folded neatly into an initial between given name and new surname where no one can see it. I, of course, don't speak for anyone else, but I cringe at the thought of overwriting my name that I’ve had my whole life. Because I’m trying to build a career with that name, it breaks my heart to think of switching so easily to someone else’s default. It's mine. It seems easy to disappear if you aren’t careful. My now-husband and I didn’t have very many redundant possessions when we moved in together, but we were a household with two copies of The Script Letter. We briefly considered selling one, but didn’t, and now I kind of like that we still each have one to call our own. I spoke at the Typographics conference last June about the process of making Gautreaux, my first fully-formed connecting script typeface. I stood, bizarrely, on a stage where Abraham Lincoln once delivered a speech. I made people laugh, the crutch I employ to feel some semblance of control when I’m nervous out of my mind. It worked! The second-to-last slide of my presentation was the name Gautreaux, really big, and I told everyone I was naming the font for my grandmother’s maiden name. I know how seriously she takes my accomplishments (sometimes I'll neglect to mention them because she’ll demand hard copies in the mail), and I want her to know I’m proud to bring something new into the world with the name she had to let go. I texted her a picture of me behind a podium on stage, with the name Gautreaux big behind me. She replied, “Oh my, this is very nice, and, probably the only time my name has ever been in “LIGHTS.” Thank you Sweetie, that is special.” In classic form, I received it back later attached to an email from her.
From: Jean G. Woodhouse To: Victoria Rushton Subject: Gautreaux name makes it to New York September 24, 2016. Thank you sweetie for sending me this photo. It is one of my prized possessions.And that email, cataloged forever, is one of mine.