When I was packing my possessions for storage a few weeks ago, I came across a small collection of photographs and a letter. They were folded together in a clear plastic pouch and had been ‘archived’ between books on a shelf in my bedroom. The letter was from July 1992.
I was the author. It was just two small sheets of paper, written on double-sides. The envelope is still with it. The stamp is still on it.
The letter was one I had written to my father. I had written to him, care of my grandmother’s house, to tell him I had just given birth to a new baby girl.
There were two photographs in it. One of the older girl, aged almost five, riding a small white pony. Pony-trekking was her treat for becoming a big sister. The other photograph was of me, with my new daughter, fewer than four hours old- she is sleeping in my arms. I am sitting in a red chair in the hospital, surrounded by the paraphenalia of a delivery room, but I am fully clothed and ready to go home. My hair is held back from my face by a hairband and I have a bandage on one hand where a drip had been inserted.
My handwriting is distinctly my handwriting. It has evolved a bit since then, but is essentially the same. If anything, in that letter, the writing is a bit more measured and even than usual – I wanted the words to be as clear as possible, and legible. I wanted the letter to be understood and well-received.
He and I were estranged at the time – but I still wanted him to know he had a new grand-daughter, to know her name, to hear it from me directly – and to share the happiness I felt that she had arrived and arrived safely – that she looked just like her older sister had at that age….. though, I noted, she was more feisty!
Unexpectedly, I got a letter by return with a small amount of cash in it, with which to buy a gift for the baby. That letter may well be in one of two trunks which constitute the ‘family archives’ ( perhaps I will write more about those big boxes at some stage, but it’s for another day.) The big trunks have a random selection of memorabilia – drawings the children did, old school notebooks they used, a full set of newspapers from the day each of them was born – the cards people sent to welcome them to the world…… its a rag-bag of curious, sentimental things.
On the one hand, It is both a privileged but also an everyday thing to announce the birth of a new child into the world. However, there is layer upon layer of significance bound up in that small sheaf of pages – an implied and symbolic significance about why we matter to each other and how it is we share that.
So how come I have the letter I wrote to him?
When my father died some five years after I had written to him, it was among the small number of possessions he left behind. He had kept it and the photographs, in its envelope, all that time.
It’s more than twenty-two years since I wrote that letter to him. I am very glad I did it. It is something tangible, which passed from me to him and then, unexpectedly, it endured and came back to me.
I am embarrassed to say, that I communicate much more with my daughters by Skype, text and mobile phone, that I do by writing – I don’t even know their current postal addresses. The are both students. I could go to their houses, I could find them in the world and I could turn up on their doorsteps, because I know where they are……but I couldn’t write to them
I will have to put that right today.
PS………. I got a card and a post card from a friend today in the post – what a beautiful surprise.