My paternal grandmother was a great one for letter writing when I was growing up. With 2,000-odd kilometres separating us, regular visits were not possible. Telephone conversations were much more frequent, although the 1.5 to 2.5 hours time difference depending on daylight savings, coupled with this young, bashful girl’s tongue-tied-ness, still made them difficult.
(“How are you?” “Good.” “Tell me about your new bike.” “It’s fun.”)
Instead, she entrenched herself in our lives with her constant flow of letters.
The letters were often filled with the ordinary: her charity work, which flowers were in bloom in the garden at the moment, how many inches of rain they had, what the extended family were up to, what that blanky dog did when he snuck into the kitchen (whole tray of biscuits fresh out of the oven in preparation for the church bake sale: gone). But more than that, the letters were of love and tenderness.
Eventually, she succumbed to old age and its inevitable tax on one’s mind and body. For the last few years of her life, she couldn’t write at all. She has since passed away, but so strong are the memory of her letters that I cannot see her spidery blue scrawl without imagining her lilting voice and warm embrace.
Who these days writes letters? Perhaps a birthday card here or there, or if you’re dedicated, a Christmas letter (although, they tend to be typed on the computer and mass produced). The last hand-written letters I sent were the thank you cards after our wedding. Knowing what an epic task was before me, I put it off for ages, well after the 3 month post wedding grace period. However, once I got going (and my hand got used to writing again), it was strangely cathartic as I remembered each guest at the wedding and our celebration together.
In this age of instant communication with telephone, email, texting, skype and the whole gamut of options which social media offers, letters are not the most popular mode of communication. Even the ongoing commercial viability of Australia Post is questioned as the nation slips further and further into a letter-writing decline. Nevertheless, we should not underestimate the value of receiving a letter: the thrill of excitement upon receiving something in the mail; a tactile expression from someone who thought the recipient and the subject matter both important enough to take the time and effort to write and send a letter. Now, the rarity of receiving a personal letter only serves increases that value and thrill.
So, here is to the lost art of letter writing. Despite their decline, may hand-written letters continue to be vessels of emotion which touch people’s hearts.
Written as part of WordPress’ Writing 101: Building a Blogging Habit challenge.