I had a trip planned to the UK for Easter this year and when California announced Lockdown and Trump announced all flights would be cancelled between the US and Europe, I decided to hop on a plane early as I did not want to miss the opportunity of seeing my sisters, little did I know that the UK would then go on lock down and I did not leave the house for 10 weeks living in yoga leggings and 1 pair of shorts, not being at all prepared for glorious UK weather as the world was turned upside down by Covid-19.
One of the gifts of being in Lock down in England was it gave me the time to spend hours reading and re-reading airmail letters that my Mother wrote to her Mother, Father and sister during the late 60’s when she was living in Toronto, Canada.
I discovered that I had these letters in the early 2000’s, in a little antique writing desk that I decided to keep of hers. This was the only piece of furniture that I wanted to take to London with me. I fell in love with the cute size and the many little storage compartments. In the drawers I found these letters and also many more letters and card’s that were written to my Mother’s Mother, Joan from the 1940’s!
I started to pay close attention to them in more recent years. Looking for clues about my Mothers personality and our family system, analysing them for genogram projects I have done. Now I am fascinated by my Mother as a character and someone who inspires me to write. She may not be here today, but I can still learn from her and see myself in her. I can feel her through these letters, I can hear her, I feel close to her, holding the physical sheets of paper and looking at her handwriting.
I cannot be more grateful that she preserved these memories for us to find one day.
I guess they really ended up in the hands of the daughter who would be most interested to pour over them, to spend hours and hours reading and re-reading them, to connect with them, to psycho analyse them and see herself and her sisters in them. I have moved house a few times since, the little writing desk now takes residence at my sister Polly’s house, more in keeping with her traditional style, but I kept the letters with me, keeping them safely stored in a shoe box.
Sadly, I do not have any of the letters that my Grandmother Joan wrote to her, I have no idea what happened to those because my Mother would have saved them, so perhaps they were lost or perhaps there were not many of them. It was as if my Mother wrote frantically and from what I can pick up on in some of the letters, Joan was not replying with the same verosity.
Unfortunately, I don’t remember my Grandmother Joan, because she died when I was a toddler. I know of her through conversations with my Mother, anecdotes from family and friends, these letters and from a teeny tiny chocolate coloured crocodile journal that belonged to her that she wrote in 1938!
My Grandmother Joan was intellectual, she had a sharp wit, she liked modern furniture and designer clothing. She liked doing the crossword and playing bridge, she had an extensive vocabulary, she liked astrology, she was an atheist, a smoker and I don’t think she was too caught up in the opinions and thoughts of others. She loved to travel, sunbathe and by my Mothers standards, she was lazy, or maybe she was just able to relax which was not always my Mothers forte. My Mother by contrast had to be busy all the time, she even admits that in some of her letters, she has to busy, or she becomes depressed she says, maybe we would refer to it as anxiety these days?
I think Joan sounds like an interesting woman, her maiden name was Joan Hollins which makes me chuckle as its so close to Joan Collins a living legend with a sharp tongue, glamour and sophistication.
So back to this shoe box and these little blue airmail letters all written in 1968 and 1969, a notable time in history when the first men landed on the moon, the Vietnam war started, and Martin Luther King was assassinated. It all feels rather similar to 2020, race riots, Elon Musk aircrafts and the war against Corona Virus.
It was the end of the swinging 60’s and these letters read more like journal entries which is what makes them so compelling to me. I was struck by the openness, that my Mother was discussing her dating life, career moves, parties and hangovers, she talked to her parents with the same familiarity as a best friend which is very much how she interacted with my sisters and I. Open, honest, and rather modern if I think about it.
I personally have always enjoyed writing letters, and it’s something I would like to re-introduce to my life because the art of letter writing is getting lost, reduced down not even to emails these days, but to texts that are rarely saved and archived.
And what a special thing it is, to receive a letter, that you can keep and stow away to find on a rainy day to reminisce and get transported back to another time.