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
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…