I flipped over the postcard. ‘Dear Mum’, I wrote.
And as my pen traced those two words my mind spiralled back to the seventies. Aged seven, I was at boarding school writing to my expat parents. ‘Dear Mum and Dad, I hope you are well, I am fine.’ Every week we had to produce a letter home. Every Sunday my letter started the same way and finished with lots of hugs and kisses. There wasn’t much in between – what is there to recount when you’re so young at school?
News from home to the three boarders was the domain of my mother, who would type separate letters to each of her three children. As the post was so unreliable from Africa, she would number the letters and we would keep tally at our end. Those type-written missives from home must have taken some incredible journeys – from up country somewhere in the then Zaire to a small international school near Brussels – reconnecting us across the miles.
After uni, I went backpacking in Australia with a boarding school friend. It seems our letter-writing programming lived on. We’d regularly write aerogrammes home, starting with giant writing to try and fill the space and then practising our smallest print on the last fold when a rush of news would suddenly pour from our pen. Amazingly, when I returned from Oz, my mother gave me a bag with all the aerogrammes – a week-by-week account of one of the most carefree years of my life.
Unbeknownst to me, my long-distance communication skills would carry on for many years, as I fell in love with an oil industry engineer whilst travelling in Oz. We moved back to live in Europe, but he carried on mapping his deserts and our only channel of communication was handwritten, hand-carried letters between France and Libya. I would read his letters over and over until the next time an envelope with his recognisable handwriting would drop into my mailbox.
Nowadays, how many of your friends’ or family members’ handwriting could you even recognise? How much do we even see our own writing – maybe a shopping list or a note to someone at home?
My father had the most beautiful handwriting. He always wrote with a fountain pen and his italic script would march across the page with little trails of ink between the words. Getting a letter from him was as much about appreciating the beauty of his italic strokes as his message.
Letter writing is so out now! My children, born in the nineties, even claim email is old fashioned. But my Mum and I – still living on different continents – continue to exchange news regularly; the techno-granny from her iPad and me from my laptop.
When she received the recent postcard, she emailed to say how nice it was to get something from me through the post. Instant digital news is a boon when family and friends are spread around the globe, but there is really something very intimate about getting a handwritten communication – addressed especially to you. I miss that!
If you enjoy reading letters, there’s a lovely blog called Letters of Note
Give me more!
English nursery rhymes may have been a bit less innocent than we thought. What were three men doing in a tub together anyways?