My son asked me the other day, “Why do we have to write, Mum?” A very reasonable question since he’s been battling with consonants and vowels, CVCC and all that, for about half his life.
“To tell stories,” said his brother, “and to make money.”
“Or to say ‘hello’,” I suggested… they stared at me and I passed out some paper, “here, you guys can write to Granny.”
I remember living with my mum and dad, in the days before email or mobiles (holy cow!) – and, like Harry Potter, in the school holidays my friends and I would send each other notes and postcards. Many of them just had cartoons and scribbles on, but having things LAND on the doormat was a special kind of magic.
When we all dispersed to colleges around the world, those postcards became letters and the words were longer, but the magic was the same. I will never throw away those letters, even though the senders are now in their forties and would laugh hysterically if I were to show them an excerpt.
Later, in my twenties, we entered the realm of email and text, and our letters would eventually trickle to a halt, but for a few years, which coincided with me living alone, the letters persisted. One of my oldest friends, then up in Durham while I was in London, used to send the most fabulous letters about his normal, daily life. He would simply tell me what he’d been doing. I remember now, the pleasure in a steaming cup of coffee, a chocolate croissant, and ripping open his letters to feel as though he and I were just chatting in a café. Like many twenty-somethings freshly out of college, I had moments of loneliness and these letters were beautiful reminders that “our gang” still existed.
Now, I live on a diet of real-life meetings, emails and texts, while letters are too often reserved for Christmas, when I receive mass-mailing inserts from various clans. Even so, occasionally, I receive an ink-on-paper letter or card from my parents, Granny, and a handful of fabulous friends who understand how much I love the plop of paper on mat. My children, on the other hand, receive wonderful letters, cards and gifts for Christmas and birthdays, from their grandparents, aunts and uncles, and friends – for which we’re all very grateful. They are happy to receive the gifts, whereas I am delighted that they will grow up understanding the joy of holding a piece of inky effort, written and posted just for them. I make them write thank you letters which is in part normal kindness and manners, but also to try and preserve the art.
And so, I explained to my kids, we write to greet people, to stave off loneliness, to say thank you and share happy moments with friends who perhaps couldn’t be with us on special days but who nevertheless thought of us. People who might wake up in the morning with an overdraft or aching neck, but who will now have breakfast with a steaming coffee, a chocolate croissant, and a big smile.
“I’ll write to Granny,” said my son.