Letter writing was such a normal part of my life, when I was a child, that I took it for granted.
By letter writing, I don’t mean “Dear Sir/Madam” but those newsy, gossipy letters that you would pick up from the letterbox that had your name and address hand written on them.
First you would guess who it was from by the handwriting or give up and look on the back. Then you would judge the number of pages by feeling the envelope. Fat ones deserved putting the kettle on and savouring every word, thin ones were ripped open just in case they held heart wrenching news between their lines.
I moved to Australia when I was eight years old. It is still a pivotal time in my memories. Placing everything into ‘before we came to Australia’ and ‘after we came to Australia’ in all the family stories.
It was 1964 and there was no internet, no mobile phones, we didn’t even have computers and no one had walked on the moon.
Landline calls to the UK were reserved for Christmas and birthdays, they were expensive and primitive. There was a delay of several seconds after you spoke. We could never quite get the hang of it; nor could our grandparents who would shout over each other to be heard. We were all so excited we would talk over one another and have to keep repeating ourselves. Afterward we would go over the conversation translating and remembering all that was said trying to make sense of the intelligible bits. The time difference meant it was either very early or very late. Sometimes two o’clock in the morning if my grandparents mucked up the time difference, which they invariably did. Then after each call we would notice all the watery smiles and like small children everywhere, we would be amazed that our parents had emotions. We weren’t the only ones crying through the laughter.
Letter writing was our other option. We wrote family aerogrammes. Pale blue, crinkly air mail paper which folded magically into itself and sealed. It was a letter and envelope combined to save weight and postage costs. It was a thing of wonder to me.
We each took turns to write to various relatives. Mum would start it off with writing all the news about how much we loved living in Australia, how well we were all doing at school, in her bold flowing cursive. Dad would be forced to say a bit next. He would complain that mum had said it all and then he would sit staring off into space hoping for some inspiration to hit him. Eventually he would write about the weather in his spidery, illegible script. David and then Shan next, with me hoping for some room at the end. I’d often run out of room and have to write smaller and smaller to fit it all in.
I preferred writing my own letters so that I could spread out on the page, I also foolishly thought they were private. The letter would always start politely hoping they were well and asking them what they had been up to, this was taught to us at our mothers knee. ‘Don’t just talk about yourself all the time.’ So I worked hard at that bit, then I would fastidiously answer any and all questions from their previous letter. Finally I got to the good bit where I would regale them with tales of what had been happening in my life. All my joys and sorrows were in those often tear-stained pages. It was just me and the people I wrote to. No family reading over my shoulder telling me what to say.
I wrote pages and pages, double sided and carefully numbered to avoid confusion. I would fret if I wrote more to one than another and would do my utmost to be fair. I tried to avoid repeating myself on the off chance they all got together and compared letters.
I wrote to grandparents, Aunties, Uncles, cousins, even a boy I met after a visit home in my teen years.
I stopped writing letters after my grandparents died. Not all at once of course, I kept writing to each of them until there were none left. It was hard to write knowing how sad they must be and it made me sad not to have both their names on the letter. Once they were all gone to God, the heart went out of it for me. I still sent Christmas cards to everyone and sometimes popped in a letter or some photos.
Now with email and Facebook we are a little more connected. I have instant communication at my fingertips and I hardly write letters to anyone anymore.
I start out well.
January 3, Dear Kate, this year I am bringing back the art of letter writing…
She ‘messages’ me to let me know she loved my letter and promises to write back soon.
We manage one each.
Same with my Auntie.
Have I still lost the heart? I often wonder if I ever got to visit my grandparents graves, to place some flowers and say a prayer, to finally say goodbye– would I then be free to write letters again? Is that what takes the wind out of my sails?
What is the reason my letters end up unfinished and unsent only to be discovered when I’m looking for something to write on? By the time I unearth them, they are woefully out of date, so they just lie there like Autumn leaves.
This year I am going to Wales for the first time In 49 years. We will have been married 40 years this December and I thought it deserved a celebration like no other. We have rarely spent money on ourselves before, holidays were usually spent serving people as part time missionaries or visiting interstate relatives with the occasional week at the beach.
This time we are going to the place where I was born, meeting the family we left behind. Introducing them all to the man I have spent the last 44 years with. Yes I said 44, it was the 70’s, give me a break. I can’t wait to show him around and to reconnect with everyone. Hopefully he will finally understand that missing part of me that still longs for Wales and the people in it.
Is it hoping for too much that we will generate some good old fashioned letter writing out of this trip? I’m already planning to send postcards to our grandchildren.. and other family of course.
Will I start a new trend or more to the point—revive an old one? I certainly hope so.
And after all–
hope is such a precious part of who we are and who we shall be, don’t you think?