Thursday, 20 August 2015

Do you write letters?

There is a renewed discussion about letter delivery by Australia Post. Apparently there are so few letters now that it does not pay them to deliver the letter mail. People don't write letters any more.
Australia Post would like to cease letter delivery. They will, at  very least, look to cutting it back and sending people to communal letter boxes. I doubt that such a proposal will work but  that may not stop them from trying.
But letters?
Letters have been a large part of my life. I remember letters coming from my earliest childhood. 
They were only delivered once in the small rural community in which I was born but in the city they were delivered twice a day. The postman did his round on a bicycle and he used a whistle to let householders know if something had been delivered to their box. Many households got at least one letter a day and some would get several. It was not at all unusual for my grandparents on both sides to get four or five letters in the morning and several more in the afternoon. When we moved to the city the same thing happened to us.
My mother wrote letters. Her handwriting was excellent. She enjoyed the physical act of writing. Her letters tended to be short and statements of fact but she wrote them. She wrote to her mother every week without fail. Her mother responded. Her father never wrote. He considered it to be between them.
My father wrote letters. His handwriting is appalling. He wrote to his parents every week too - long letters filled with funny things that my paternal grandmother would read not once but several times. Both his parents wrote to him. 
When I left home I was expected to write home and I did. I wrote home once a week. I wrote to friends. There was no e-mail back then. My mother wrote a weekly letter to me - statements of fact so that I knew what was going on. She wrote a weekly letter to my brother until a month or so before her death. She expected him to respond by letter. These days he phones our father once a week and they might talk for forty minutes  - you can do that long distance now if  you use the computer link.
On my father's side letters were extremely important to all the family. His grandmother kept her many children informed by very regular letters. They wrote to her and to each other. There was no other way to keep in touch. I wish they had kept those letters because they were apparently well worth reading.  I also have no doubt that the close clan ties we still feel are partly the result of those letters.
I was taught to write a letter at school of course. We were taught how to "set out" a letter with the address, the form of salutation and the closing phrases. Somewhere there is a stiff, formal letter my brother wrote to his "mother". It begins "Dear Mother...." and is filled with the most  unlikely phrases. I suppose he was learning something from writing it. 
I have written thousands of letters in my lifetime. Most of mine were, of necessity, typed. My letters to strangers were more formal but my letters to friends were casual affairs. I used to write to a brilliant mathematician friend now deceased. He was severely disabled but he still wrote letters to me, picking out each letter on a typewriter with a stick held in his fist. Our letters to each other would be filled with trying to find new ways of expressing mathematical symbols. I wish I had kept his because they were often very funny indeed. I had letters from friends filled with poetry and funny little drawings. I wish I had kept them too. None of us realised that e-mail was going to change the art of letter writing.
Like anyone else I will also use e-mail. I send "letters" to the editor by e-mail these days. I respond to e-mails from officials by e-mail. I do most of my work by e-mail. It is supposed to save paper. It is supposed to be "instant" if necessary. Oh yes, the "advantages" are said to be many.
I still write letters but I do it far less than I once did. I had to explain to a three year old what a letter is. 
I find it all rather sad. 

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