One of the most vivid memories I have of my grandmothers home was her “card drawer”. In her hallway she had a beautiful set of white draws with elaborate scrolling detail in gold and dainty little gold handles. Inside held hundreds of cards. Cards for every conceivable occasion. I especially loved this drawer as my Gran was known for sending raunchy cards and all manner of dirty jokes were in that drawer (which may explain why years later searching through the drawers for something else I found copies of 1960’s “Ribald” magazines! Oh the horror of knowing your gran has porn). On my 10th birthday I got my first “naughty” birthday card and felt like the most grown up person ever. Now before we go down that road….no it is not advisable to give 10 year old children cards with dirty jokes in them, but trust me when I say it was tame compared to the stuff I overheard on a regular basis in that house. Everyone looked forward to getting a card for her and her friends proudly displayed them in their homes. Whenever she spotted a newsagents or card store she would stop to have a look and pick up some new ones for the drawer. Along with her trusty diary she never forgot a birthday or anniversary. I on the other hand have purchased and addressed at least 100 Christmas cards in the past before promptly forgetting they existed until February.
Last year I resolved to try to be better with my correspondence I started out slowly – with thank you notes. They are surprisingly easy to write and seem so very appreciated. To make things easy on myself when I buy a new pack of cards I also buy a pack of stamps – that way I can always send them out as soon as I think of it (though I also have fished out more than a few forgotten and smooshed ones from the bottom of my handbag over the year). Mostly it was easy, and most of the time people got pretty thank you notes and emailed me straight away to say they hadn’t received “proper” mail in so long. It felt good.
Then a friend of mine lost her mother. I honestly had no idea what to do. I hadn’t even heard it from her directly. I wanted to send her flowers (but not in the budget), I wanted to call her (but didn’t know if she would be up to that)…I wanted to make it better. I couldn’t of course. So I sat down to write a condolence letter. After staring at the blank page for awhile I opened up my copy of Emily Post’s Etiquette (18th Edition) and took this advice…
“Because condolence notes and letters are too personal to follow a set form, one simple rule should guide you: Say what you truly feel. A single sincere line expressing the genuine feeling you had for the deceased is all you need to write.”
In my case I had never met her mother, my friend moved here from New York. But I did know how she felt about her mother. I sent the letter and after everything had settled down I heard from her thanking me. For her she appreciated not only me thinking of her, but sending her something that required nothing of her. So many emails were filled with questions she felt she owed an answer to. But a note that was just for her, during this horrible time, that was just me thinking of her – meant so much.
Not long after that I received the shock of my life when I opened my email and discovered my Nana had emailed me. I had always said to my nan “if only you had email – we could keep in touch more” as I am a huge Internet addict. It was a one off from my aunts email (so far) but it was just such a huge thing. I felt so honoured. She had done something way out of her comfort zone just to talk to me.
Around the same a lovely friend gifted me with this beautiful letter writing set that she had found while op shopping and I just knew I was going to write everyone beautiful letters, in beautiful handwriting. Filled with meaningful prose (I do tend have a tendency to get carried away). Instead it ended up in the drawer and I forgot about it.
Then last week I found the set while tidying up and I decided if my Nana could email me, I could find the time to sit down and write her a handwritten letter. So I did. I told her about the twins shaving their heads, about worrying about the hectic schedule we have this year with the girls sports, about seeing a new doctor and lots of things I had probably already mentioned on the phone. Then I wrote what I had wanted to say to her for years, the stuff that just doesn’t come out on the phone or when I fly home for a visit. I told her how much I admired her, how I always wanted to be as kind, forgiving and generous as she was. How she has been my hero for as long as I can remember. How unlike everyone else, I actually care what she thinks of me. I wrote it all in my terrible shaky handwriting (I have hand tremors ..and my hands shake even more when I am emotional), sealed it up and wrote the only other address I know off by heart and put it in the mail.
On Tuesday I fly into Sydney for a quick family visit. I can’t wait to see her (and the rest of my family and friends…but mainly her). I can’t wait to hear how busy she has been, if she really sold her tennis racket to help my grandfather do a motorcyle tour (I have seen it in several articles about my grandfather now), I can’t wait to see her laugh and smile, I can’t wait to hear what else she has been reading (she recently recommended “A Thousand Splendid Suns” and prior to that she suggested “In Cold Blood” by Truman Capote), I can’t wait to hear (and hopefully see) her long time boyfriend and how she blushes and laughs and chastises me for calling him that. I can’t wait to hear her say that she was just as surprised to get a letter from me as I was to get an email from her. I just can’t wait to see her.
Now lovely ladies (and gents of course), a challenge for you all. Put pen to paper and send a letter to someone you love. Consider older relatives who may not have gotten a “proper” letter in a long time, or pop a love note on your partners pillow. If you feel like there is no one you can write to – write your future self a letter and stash it somewhere, or write a note and leave it in a book in the library.
Miss Fairchild xoxo