Sunday, 15 May 2022

Writing letters

on actual paper and posting them is something I used to do often. Now I use email for many of the same sort of letters.

Just how rare a letter is became obvious yesterday when one of my young neighbours saw me reading one that had been handwritten.  He was bewildered by it. I doubt he had ever seen one before. His parents get almost no mail at all. Anything which comes is probably advertising material or perhaps the occasional official letter. A handwritten letter has probably not been put in their letter box for years.

I tried to explain. It took me back a bit.

I am not sure when I was sent my first letter. I know I was not yet five years old because I remember being given the letter in the kitchen of our house in the tiny country town in which I was born. It was from my godmother. She was on holiday in another state. There was a postcard for my mother and a "proper letter" for me. My godmother had printed it because I still could not read "grown up writing"  or cursive. I know there were some tiny drawings - something she was very good at - and she would have kept the words simple enough. I could read but she knew I would want to read it by myself...and I did.

I don't think there was a postal delivery at all there. People would have picked up their mail from the post office. There were little boxes on the outside wall or you could go in and ask for it. The postmaster knew everyone. (He also ran the manual telephone exchange.) He would leave a message in your box if something would not fit in there. Fridays were the busiest day. Farmers would come in from the surrounding farms and pick up mail, feed and repairs while their wives went into the general store. We often saw them standing outside the post office looking at their bills...and the letters.

Making a telephone call was expensive back then, particularly one to the city some sixty-five miles away. People wrote letters. My mother wrote to her mother more than once a week. My father wrote to his parents once a week. It was how they kept in touch. They must have had letters from other people as well but I knew about the replies from "Nana" and "Grandma and Grandpa". "Papa" (my mother's father) did not write anything except business letters. That was unusual enough for me to remember people commenting on it.

When we returned to city there was "the postman". He came around twice a day on his  bicycle Mondays to Fridays and once on Saturdays. If there was mail for you he would blow his whistle after he had put it in the letter box at the front gate. "Nana" always hurried out to get her letters. "Grandma" didn't hurry. "It might be a bill. It can wait."

Yes, those letters with the "windows" in the envelopes were not letters anyone wanted. It was the letters with the "real writing" on the front that my mother and my grandmothers always wanted to get. 

We went on over the years getting letters delivered to the box at the front gate, to the "box" at the post office, to just the school, and back to the box at the front gate. The number of  letters with "real writing" has become less. Mail in general has become less. People use email.

Email was not known when I started writing letters about what became International Literacy Year. Some time ago now someone asked me if I thought it might have been "easier to do all those letters" if email had been available. The answer is no. I would still have written actual letters. The people I contacted might have taken even more notice than they did - taken notice because an actual letter is something you can actually hold. An actual letter does not depend on power in order to read it. There is still "something" about a letter that is not the same as email, that makes the message in it more significant. 

My young neighbour wanted to know why the person who had written the letter had not emailed me or phoned me. I tried to explain. They live in a far off place. There is no email there and making a phone call would be very expensive.  I could see he really couldn't quite comprehend or accept that. His grandparents are off to New Zealand shortly. His grandfather and I agreed that a postcard at least might help him understand what mail with "real writing" is all about. 

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