There is something so special about the hand written letter isn’t there. It speaks of a bygone era when people took more time, put more consideration into the words they said to one another. News that was special was written about. Even just the day-to-day information brought smiles and a happy heart to the receiver.
I grew up receiving lovely letters and postcards from my Grandparents speaking of wonderful travels and adventures. I played while Gran sat at her table writing page after page to her sisters, cousins, friends. Telling them about life, about her grandchildren causing a ruckus in her orderly home. Filling them all in on our health, happiness, progress in school and in life. My mother was the same. Our home had that drawer with the stationary in it busting full of spare envelopes, lovely patterned writing pads, cards with floral designs and stamps. One Christmas I gave my mother a small decoupaged writers storage box with the little drawers for stamps, and compartments to safely keep her writing tools. It still sits atop the drawers in the sun room. My Mum still writes letters. Perhaps not as much as she used to, what with email so easy these days.
I remember writing letters too. Writing to Pen-pals and relatives in the East. I’d sit at my desk and feel agony as I pondered over what to write and how best to say it. Pen on paper meant you could not afford to be frivolous. Your words were carefully thought out and planned. It was unforgivable to me to use white-out for such a precious task.
I remember the excitement I felt as a child when I was expecting letters from those same Pen-pals and relatives. The agonizing wait day after day. Running to the letter box after the postie rode away on his bike to see if today was the day.
Over the years as I grew I stopped writing letters. I stopped thinking about how meaningful a past time it was. As a young adult I learnt the importance of sending thank-you notes and Christmas cards. Forms of letter-writing I guess, which I make sure I still do to this day. Yet the intimacy of letter writing is now replaced with the quick and often imprudent e-mail.
I remember my Gran telling me of her sadness. In the move to their smaller unit her precious letters from her first fiancé, killed in World War II went missing. His handwriting had gone, that last connection to his essence had disappeared. My Grandpa was always wonderful in understanding my Gran’s need to keep those memories. Long gone and faded, yet still precious. I was a lot younger, not having yet experienced love like that, yet I felt heartbroken for her.
As a child and young teen I had a special box to keep those extra special letters in. I covered it in baby pink tissue paper and stuck pretty stickers on it. I attached a bell for a clasp and pink ribbon to loop around holding my precious letters safe. I do not know where that box is now. Not filled with love letters like my Gran’s, but precious non-the-less, and it is sad they are long gone. I know that somewhere in our boxes tucked away in storage back home, I keep a file of the ‘letters’ my husband and I sent one another when we were courting. OK they are on email. The modern day method. The tone of these ‘letters’ is not the same as the hand written kind. However the intention is there. Our journey as we got to know each other and fall in love is recorded. Our history is somewhere safe for our children to read when they are grown.
If you read the history of letter writing it helps you see how communication is such a primal, necessary thing. From tying knots in ropes and indenting clay we have evolved to new levels in our communication these days. The content may seem irrelevant by comparison yet I challenge that. Communication helps us know our kin are ok, when they need us. We have an intrinsic need to feel part of something, to feel heard, understood. Knowing someone is receiving our words and taking the time to read it gives us that certainty we need that we exist. That we matter. Regardless of how the message was passed along back at the start, the process of sender and receiver remains the same.
I find myself here now, sitting at my kitchen table an ocean apart from my family. From my Grandmother who I love. Sitting here I contemplate my lack of insight, my lack of sensitivity to my family and in particular to my Gran. Because I stopped writing letters. I feel sad that I failed to see the importance of writing letters home before now. Now that I am far away from my friends and family. Now that I feel the loneliness of the ocean.
For my Gran who is a knowledge seeker, the main way we keep in touch has been through my parents news to her. They still live in the same town. I’ve trusted in them to share my blog with Gran, to show her the photo’s I post in private places for family to see. For so many years telephone calls have been hard because of Gran’s hearing loss. Now I am here across the sea, calls to her are too expensive to make to her landline. Yet the one way we can communicate. The one way I know fills her heart with light, is that of letter writing. My Gran’s hand is not as steady these days. To be honest never in my life could I actually read her writing. However Gran’s touch typing is still solid. This is how we have discovered each other again.
Checking our mail box here in Manila, I did not expect to find anything. It is like back home, you check your mail box out of habit. These days you rarely get more than the odd bill and junk mail. One day I opened the letter box and I found it. I found a letter from home. A hand written envelope addressed to me from my Gran. My heart skipped a beat and it was in that moment that I realised what I had been missing. I suddenly remembered how wonderful having that anticipation felt. In our world of instant gratification, I had lost touch with one of our most simple pleasures. Now I felt it again and I liked it. I liked it a lot.
In recent times I have started to understand and respect the fragility of time. Now I realize the missed opportunity I have had all these years. I should have found the time to write letters to my Gran detailing the growth of her great grandchildren and the lives that we have been living. For now, I can only learn from this and do better with the time we have left. I think we both realise that is not much more.
Saying goodbye to my Gran before we moved across the sea was one of the hardest good-byes I made. Gran gave me that look, that look that said this is most likely the last time I lay my eyes on you. There was sadness, yet satisfaction that she had done her job as a mother and grandmother. That she was proud that her grandchild was taking this plunge. One that she sees as so brave and exciting.
So now, after I write this I will start to write my next letter to her. These days it is not hand written, most people say they cannot understand my hand writing anyway. For me typing is quicker, more efficient. Also for my Gran’s eyes she needs the ease to read, so I type and put it in a larger font.
My message to you reader, is this. If you have an elderly relative you love, please do not take for granted the time you have left. Please do not rely on third parties to impart messages and news. Find the time in your day to connect, to communicate with them. Share your life, ask them about theirs. We have so much to learn from one another. That intimacy of the letter nourishes our soul in a way I had long forgotten.