Sunday, June 5, 2011

Remembrance of Letters Past

When I was at my mother’s house recently, going through old papers, as she is downsizing, she showed me files of letters that my brothers and I had written to my father and her when we were children in boarding school in India, many years ago. I read them with great interest; they not only brought back memories of events and feelings from that time period, but they vividly illustrated different stages of our childhoods. My youngest brother wrote sweet, simple notes in block printing. We all listed litanies of activities: “On Saturday our class took a hike. On Sunday L. and C. and I went to the bazaar. Yesterday Mr. F. told us we have to memorize a poem.” Etc. The letters also were clearly from four different kids: I immediately recognized the handwriting of each of my brothers, and noticed the stylistic differences in our writing. I also still have some of the letters that my parents wrote to me in boarding school, and later on too, for example when I was in college and when I moved to San Francisco. During the boarding school holidays, when we dispersed and went home, some of my friends and I would write each other long letters, which helped with the separation from each other and our school and social activities. During my college and early adult years, when any of us -- family or friends -- went on trips, we would write letters and cards. As an adult, I enjoy reading the published letters of some of my favorite authors, and find them both revealing and intriguing. I still write and receive some handwritten notes or letters, although much more rarely than in pre-email days. In particular, my mother doesn’t use email, so we still write each other letters; we each enjoy both writing and receiving letters. A couple of my friends still (one in particular -- thank you, B.!) write the occasional note by post, which I enjoy and appreciate. And I have one friend in Canada with whom I have been exchanging cards and letters since we were ten years old, although we have only seen each other a few times over the years, and that is a treasured correspondence. But with cell phones, texting, emailing, instant messaging/chatting, Facebook, and all the other ways to communicate, old-fashioned letters are not very common anymore. Isn’t it a bit sad that nowadays when one opens one’s mailbox, the chances of that little uptick of happiness on finding a personal letter are very small? I know that technology marches on, and that is mostly a good thing; I, for example, am a great fan of email. But I can’t help feeling that the drastic decrease in letter writing is a loss.

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