I pulled the stack of letters out of the box. They were neatly tied with a red ribbon and protested at my efforts to untie them before finally relenting. I hesitated and then let the envelopes, with their foreign stamps and brightly decorated Aerograms, slide through my fingers and drift over my knees. I watched as they slowly fanned themselves across the floor.
I plucked one at random and began to read.
“The last letter I wrote to you came back. I don’t know why it is but I just can’t seem to stop worrying about you. I do hope you are well and happy. I’m sorry sweetheart, but I’m getting to the stage where I wish you were home. I miss my baby. London seems so far away.”
The remainder of that bittersweet note provides a description of the weather and some speculation as to whether or not one of my old college roommates might actually be pregnant. I read every detail through a few tears.
I sift through the pile trying to decide which letter to read next. I make my selection based on where I was living at the time. Every London address I’ve ever had is etched upon at least one envelope.
“It was so good to hear you on the phone the other night. I miss you so much.”
I smile to myself and giggle out loud as I read about my youngest sisters and what was going on in their lives at the time. There’s mention of a blossoming romance for one, and a story about a party and far too much vodka for another. I feel my heart tighten as I think of how much I miss them, and how much of their lives I’ve missed.
I move on to another note and continue reading.
“Thanks for the lovely card. It made me cry when I got it.”
Grandma is unwell. My brother and Dad have been working on the farm, and my older sisters have been calling regularly. It’s post 9/11 and everyone is worried about what will happen next. I clearly remember getting this letter and thinking maybe I should return home for a visit – or perhaps, for good?
Other pieces of correspondence detail celebrations and events and rather than making me feel left out, I felt as though I were present. I certainly understood how much I was missed. Special occasions are usually the precious segments of life we store in our memories – we all know that true memories are held in our head rather than our hands – but what if you weren’t actually there?
The letters my Mother wrote for the first few years I lived in London are such gifts, which is why I keep them. Little treasures that came in the mail until she got her first mobile phone, and we started swapping text messages regularly. Somewhere along the way, International phone calls became affordable and thus a regular occurrence.
I’m a little sad about that. It may be more convenient to pick up the phone – there’s nothing quite like hearing a loved one’s voice – but I do miss her beautiful handwriting gracing the front of a crisp white envelope and the messages inside.
Letters aren’t being lost; they barely exist, having drifted away in the flow of our modern, busy lives.
Can you recall when you last wrote or received a letter yourself?