Voices from the Past – Deleted?

I was looking through some of my mother’s things the other day, in particular a gold damask clutch full of letters and telegrams exchanged between my parents and IMG_20140514_0003grandparents as Mum and Dad were about to get married – in a hurry as was often the case in those days… 1957. More than fifty-seven years ago. That’s Nana and Gramps Mingo in the picture – aren’t they cute?

Each of their voices came across so loud and clear in their writing – it was almost as good as having a video or audio recording, yet they’re only words on paper. So I got to thinking – where is that kind of record being kept these days? letter writingTexts, email, phone calls/messages –  all are either deleted or forgotten about as soon as they’ve been read/heard. Seems  correspondence we keep and re-read is yet another casualty of our disposable world. Nothing lasts forever these days – coffee makers, stoves, fridges, washers, dryers, clothing, even pictures, and, sadly, lasting, honest person-to-person communication – ie. letters.

As authors, we infuse our fiction with lots of emotional detail from our real lives; our books will live on after we’re gone, but it’s not at all the same as writing a straight-little girl at mailboxfrom-the-heart note to somebody. It doesn’t take long to dash one off; on the rare occasion I write a letter, I often type it, simply because my handwriting is so atrocious – even Don can barely read my grocery lists.

I suppose the Internet was supposed to put an end to paper, but that hasn’t kept my filing basket from filling up with meaningless stuff. I’d prefer letters. Last week, I spent ten minutes digging up an address, then another ten writing a letter to legendary kids’ author, Patricia MacLachlan, whose work I’ve admired for years. Her book, Edward’s Eyes, is so incredibly perfect that I had to tell her. imagesI wonder if she’ll write back to me…

I miss getting letters, and I’m happy I’ve hung onto some old favourites – it’s so lovely to hear people’s voices long after they’ve died. Don’t you agree?

When’s the last time you got a letter in the mail?

Have you ever found yourself admiring the beautiful boxes of writing paper? Say, in the book aisle at Winners, or when you’re waiting in line at the cash? Chances are you smiled, then put it back, realizing that even if you did take the time to write somebody a real letter, they’d probably respond by email – maybe even text, if they were really in a hurry.

Today I finally got around to reading through a bundle of letters I inherited from my mother, who died in 2006. Immediately, I wished I could go back 25 years or so, and become a fanatical letter writer, as a means of reminding myself what I did during those 25 years:)  I read love letters written by my parents, when they were living apart, but about  to get married (they were the ages my kids are now – 20 and 22); letters from my grandparents to my mum before they really knew her, containing such nuggets as, “true love is the greatest of riches”; letters from me to my parents while I was a university student (ye gads – did I really spill my guts about my various romances to my parents?!)  The bundle even contained several telegrams (imagine!) Dad sent to Mum in 1957, the cheapest means of quick communication at a distance, I suppose.When I was a student, Nana Mingo typed (because of arthritis) me a letter faithfully every single week. She was fond of including newspaper clippings she thought might be useful, too. Reading those letters today brings her voice back loud and clear, as though she’s still here.

There’s something so intimate about handwritten letters, and it’s a sad thing that they’ve all but become extinct. For sure, the hundreds of email letters I’ve sent over the past decade won’t ever be read again, by anybody. Not that I usually have anything profound or earth-shattering to say, but email is still a record of life, communication, emotions, relationships – at least temporarily, until the recipient deletes it:) Love letters in the sand, sort of.

I made a research trip to the Nova Scotia Archives last week. In perusing various documents, mostly deeds, from the 1750s, I came upon the signature of an ancestor, Jean Frederic Menegeaux (Mingo today). He had simply served as witness to a deed, but I marvelled that I could (via microfilm) study his handwriting, centuries later.  Now if only he’d kept a diary…but that’s a whole different kettle of fish…When’s the last time somebody wrote you a letter? Do you have boxes of letters stashed away? Would you be happy to have somebody read them years from now? Hmm…