I love getting letters, even though emails and texting seems to be the 21st Century mode of written communication. Of course, the letters I’m referring to are the slow-as-molasses-snail-mail means of keeping in touch by actually applying pen to paper.
My Mom was a great letter-writer. My Mom’s sister and my maternal grandmother also wrote newsy, folksy letters. Back in those days, long-distance phone calls were considered a luxury. When an out-of-town family member called, it was usually with sad news that someone had died. There was no email back then.
Today we seem to phone whenever we wanted to share any news or to merely keep in touch—no one had to die first. The other alternative is texting or email—quick, fast written words that we can read instantly. Hardly anyone likes to take the time to sit down and write a newsy letter to be savoured again and again.
I like to think written letters can be a piece of history—not only is family news documented but events happening at the time is also recorded, especially if it affects the family in some way. The politics of the times, events that made headlines, the unusual weather, newly implemented government policies and so much more—how can a person not comment and confide how it affected us?
A century and more ago, letters had a long, perilous journey to get to its final destination. It’s probably why the women of those times saved every precious letter they received. When I was doing some research on Victoria’s early start as Fort Victoria, the period I was interested in produced a box of historical treasures. The first movers and shakers, the political leaders, had a vison on building a great city. These men and their wives were also prolific letter writers, recording not only family news but also the political atmosphere, strict social life and local gossip of their times.
No matter how deeply in the past one searches, men and women had the same concerns; the health of their men-folk/women-folk; education, safety and acceptable behaviour of their children; the high cost of living; the need for more culture in such a wilderness; rough, wild fur-trappers in drunken brawls who set bad examples for impressionable young boys; the lack of decent marriageable partners for their off-springs. Packets of written letters with its beautiful penmanship, revealed so much about the past. History books can teach about events but old letters tells how people truly coped.
Emails and texting are not permanent records of life today—a written letter, filled with our thoughts and immediate impressions are still the best. The slow-as-molasses-snail-mail is well worth waiting for and fast becoming a lost art. Oops, gotta go—here comes my mailman. . . . .