The dining room table has been loaded with boxes of letters this week: letters from years ago, decades ago that have been unearthed from our loft. Most of them are Mum’s, but as she sorts through them, she picks out any addressed to me. I already have most of my own letters, of course, in the pine chest in my bedroom, but she discovers a few of mine mixed in with hers.
I sift through these pieces of my past. There’s a handful of birth cards, in which pink features predominantly. “A Baby GIRL!””, one proclaims, while another begins “To Welcome Your Daughter.” There’s even a telegram my aunt sent—to think that I was born in the days when people sent telegrams! My younger brothers had never seen one until I showed it to them.
I don’t know most of these people, though, so I am less interested in the birth cards than I am in a few more personal items. There’s a letter my grandmother wrote when I was three years old. She included some photos of me from a recent visit I’d paid. In one of them I give a small, shy smile as I stand on a chair drying a plate with a tea towel. My hair is quite short and looks, perhaps, a little unusual. It must have been taken after I had cut my hair, Mum points out. I remember the hair-cutting incident, although I don’t remember my visit to my grandparents. “Won’t Dad be surprised to see you drying the dishes for Granny?”, my grandmother wrote.
There’s also a letter my dad wrote me when I was almost six. He was away, and apparently I had sent him a letter and a picture. “I really liked your little letter and picture—once I could find it in the envelope”, he wrote. I must have sent a tiny missive or a huge envelope, or both. “I love and miss you very much,” he finished. I don’t remember getting this letter either, but now? It’s something special to have and to keep.
As we rediscovered these mementos from the past, it made me think again about how meaningful it is to have real, physical letters that last. Will we be able to look back on old tweets, Facebook messages, or even emails in twenty or thirty years’ time? And even if we can, we’ll be missing something of the writer’s character that we can find in a handwritten message—the handwriting, the choice of card or paper, adds a layer of meaning and personal interest that pixels just can’t mimic.
“If I get a guy,” I announce to Mum, “I’m going to make him write letters to me.”