For the love of letters: my 5 stand out moments

Having been housebound this week with a chest infection, I’ve ended up sorting through the large stack (one picnic hamper, two storage boxes) of correspondence I’ve accumulated over the past three decades. 72 hours later I’ve finally run out of lemsip and I’m coming to the end of my stocks of rubber bands.

I didn’t re-read everything, just opened envelopes and took gut decisions on whether it was a keepsake or binnable, sorted wedding invites, christening orders of service and funeral cards into a separate folder, put my husband’s cards (no letters! Not a single one!) into a separate pile and tidied everything to be sorted by sender at a (long distant) time. But it was enough to get a poignant overview of the highs and lows, bring back to light things i’d completely forgotten and to make me think as well as giggle. Here are five┬ástand-outs:

  1. The first letter: a card from a friend on a writing retreat who received the letter i’d posted for her to find on arrival, saying that this is the first time she’s ever seen my handwriting. The impact of digital on new friendships…
  2. The handwriting: almost always distinctive and personal, with exceptions: i) all teenage girls, ii) my cousin and my uncle, ii) two of my university friends, who i think share many other similarities.
  3. The sadness: reading cards sent as support for tough times (illness, bereavement, break-ups) brought those times back. And they were often from surprising people- people who’d heard from other sources and who reached out to cheer me up. Thank you, for making that effort – I hope i’ve managed to pass on some of your kindness during my good times.
  4. The teenagers: All letters from teenage girls are about who they fancy, who you told them you fancied, lists of what they got for birthday/christmas presents, protestations of affection and begging for you to write back soon. I apologise to everyone who knew me during my teenage years.
  5. Cats can’t write: as a pre-teen I had a prolific series of pen-pal discourses on behalf of my cat. With other peoples’ cats. In fact, mainly with stranger’s cats through personal ads. There is probably a good reason I’d suppressed these memories but, alas, they are now all flooding back.

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