Joy of writing #1: aerogrammes from Daddy

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Most nostalgic and illuminating Christmas gift of 2016: copies of our Dad’s letters in 1954 when he was in the USA as NZ’s first (?) Fulbright Scholar. He went to study the training of theological students (that being his own role in New Zealand) and had his mind blown, I think. His aerogrammes to the entire family were scanned and collated by my wise sister Lesley.

  • Look at the handwriting — so individual, a bit wonky but fully legible except for a few with faded ink.
  • Think of the quantity — 9 letters to me in 6 months, and about that many to each of my 5 sisters. To Celia (our mother): 52, that’s two per week.
  • Such joy imparted—in both directions. DMT would sometimes quote from our letters to young Americans, with obvious glee.
  • Such mind-widening information from abroad! None of us had travelled outside of New Zealand, not even Celia. All sorts of details were remarkable to DMT and to us:

For lunch we had: a glass of water, a glass of milk, a plate of salad (on left) — (at same time) a plate of donuts, golden syrup and stewed apple! Followed by chocolate ice-cream & the usual horrible weak tea.

Form dictated function and style

The letters served multiple functions. Dad was too busy to keep a diary. As artefacts of the pre-digital world, the physical items were saved as a precious record of DMT’s time away:

I would be glad if someone would kindly assure me that my letters are being kept. […] I have things that I want to write down so that I don’t forget them, but instead of keeping a diary I’m relying on these letters as a record.

The form influenced style. Aerogrammes — two sides of a flimsy sheet of paper —invited writers to be concise, so we could say a lot in limited space, and perhaps entertaining. DMT included various small cute illustrations too.

Every letter was a love letter

The love in these letters is obvious in so many ways. I haven’t yet read his letters to Celia, because of a slight technical obstacle, but they’ll tell a whole different side of the story. All I know so far is that he had a substantial repertoire of endearments. These are just his salutations!

Dearest darling, Dear One, My dear one, My darling Celia, My darling Ce, Celia darling dear, My beloved, My dear mate, My sweetest, Celia my dear one, My sweetest dear, My dearest one, My dear beloved one, My dearest beloved, My dear sweetheart, My dear darling sweetheart, My dear birthday girl, My dear wifey, My darling wife

What treasures

Writing is not just a bite-sized digital communication or a business tool or a source of income. Writing can also promote healing, happiness and hope. Good to remember that…

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20 thoughts on “Joy of writing #1: aerogrammes from Daddy

  1. Handwritten letters are treasures to be saved. So much more conveyed with them than most digital communiques today, I think. On the other hand, the younger generations in my family keep in much more frequent contact with me using the digital devices. Writing a letter seemed to be experienced as a more demanding obligation.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’ve come across other examples of letters being used in place of a diary. (Indeed, an unutterably tedious ex-boyfriend of mine once asked me to keep his letters for that very reason.)

    I also watched in horror as someone (who shall remain nameless) burnt a box of family letters, keeping only those “that didn’t say much”. In the eyes of the world, a much less important burning than Cassandra Austen’s, but even so…

    The dilemma of our own history. What remains? What was destroyed? How random the survival chances were and are. And now we’ve gone digital, what will be there for future generations?

    Liked by 2 people

    1. My scariest equivalent to the boyfriend was one who wanted our love letters saved “because they were so well written.” Incinerated. (Just the letters.)
      In general I’m more in favour of clearing the decks, decluttering, minimising, making my own choices about what gets preserved. My computer is full of rubbish as well as precious documents. I guess it’s up to me to discriminate as I go, and make things easy for my own children.

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  3. I loved this post and became a fan of your father as I read it. I have letters my dad wrote to me that I treasure. When he was in his eighties after my mother died, I lived far from him and so began a correspondence with him that continued until his death at 92. They are filled with his personality and bring him back to me when I read them.

    Liked by 2 people

      1. I hadn’t thought about that, Rachel. Even with my grandchildren, I send texts because that is what they respond to. On special occasions, I’ll send letters because I can be much more personal in them. They never respond, but they mention to me what I said to them. Maybe I should do that more often.

        Liked by 1 person

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