We went to visit them, since most of them lived in the neighbourhood. Or…we wrote them letters…proper letters…in envelopes… with stamps on them. These were delivered by postmen who made two deliveries each day and even came by on Saturdays. Most of the letters I received were from my cousins, none too inspiring, or birthday cards from Aunty Ethel who lived a million miles away in Coventry, England.
All that changed when I was ten. I contracted mumps. Actually, my brother had contracted mumps, so Mum made me share a bedroom with him so that I would catch them too. That’s how things were done way back then. If one child picked up an interesting disease..measles, chicken pox etc…then the other children had to get it too. It was easier/preferable to deal with one bout of grumbling, cranky, bored children than to suffer through a series of incidents of the same illness.
Anyway I had mumps and I was sooooo bored. I had read every book I could lay my hands on. I had done every jigsaw puzzle in the house and there were lots of them. I was driving Mum nuts with my constant questions about just about everything. Then there was a little miracle.
About a month before I had became ‘mumped’, I had, under duress from Mum, written a letter to a pen-pal association. The association had advertised in a women’s magazine for children all around the world to become friends and thereby lead the way to world peace. High ideals indeed. I had written my letter, sent it off and forgotten about it until, one day about a week into my enforced imprisonment due to mumps, a letter in an airmail envelope arrived in our mailbox.
Wow! American stamps! Thus began my friendship with Christine who lived in Pittsburgh and also my love affair with writing letters to pen-pals. I had pen-pals in USA, Hong Kong, Germany, France, England and New Zealand. The letters, photos and packages came regularly. I would race home from school each day and dash into my room, hopeful of finding a letter waiting for me on my desk.
As I grew older and began making plans for a worldwide working holiday, the pen-pals all, (yes, all of them), offered accommodation when I visited their countries. I managed to meet up with most of them and stayed at the homes of several of them too. It was was wonderful.
Now, I have friends all over the world thanks to the joys of the Internet and Facebook and networking. It’s wonderful too but I have to say that the thrill of receiving a proper letter is far greater than the pleasure of opening an email. That has its pleasures too, don’t get me wrong, but the physical nature of the proper letter is something special. I really enjoy the sending and receiving of Christmas cards for that very reason. The holding in my hands of a message of greeting and affection that was actually touched by the sender – the connection – the distance physically travelled. It is something truly special in this age of instant communication.
When I was a kid, life moved at a slower pace and, whilst I absolutely adore the ease and speed of technological communication, sometimes I miss receiving proper letters.