Life & Arts Opinion

Looking to the past through letters and telegrams

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Letters are a rarity now (image via pixabay)

Bazza flicked open the screen door and padded across the lawn to greet the postie.

He blinked at his bright yellow fluorescent, electric gadgetry on his hip, and paused for a moment to take in the large box structure on the back of the motorcycle.

Bazza half smiled. Decades ago he had delivered telegrams as a holiday job to either smiling faces or trembling hands for Australia Post:

“It’s all parcels these days, Bazza. Online shopping is the national pastime, but, here you go, a letter for you. It’s hand written, ahhh, that explains the spring in your step.”

Bazza was expecting the letter. Every December an old sweetheart from his youth provided an update on her life in London.

He made a cup of tea, sat at the kitchen table and, as per his ritual, used the letter opener to reveal its contents. He inhaled the hint of familiar perfume and unfolded the heavy paper.

The handwriting was calligraphic and elegantly sloped to the right.

As always, he paused after 'Dear Barry' and rubbed his chin. Bazza’s mother and his wife were the only other people who called him "Barry".

She provided details of her family in the opening paragraph and boasts about the various achievements of their three daughters. The imminent arrival of grandchild number five had him smiling and a touch envious.

He half groaned at her annual, deliberate reference to the Royal Family and could picture her smug smile.

The tone of the letter changed on the second page. Her sentences shortened and he noted a slight tremble in the handwriting as she recounted the death of her father during the year. Bazza closed his eyes to capture a memory of her Dad, and bit his thumb at a less pleasant one, when he had questioned young Bazza’s "intentions".

The remainder of the letter was more upbeat. She recounted in detail the wonderful summer they had spent together on the South Coast of NSW. A carefree time of sun, surf and sand. Bazza closed his eyes again and his nose crinkled at the memory smell of "Reef Coconut Oil" applied liberally to each other’s back. He laughed at her recollections of fun evenings at the annual carnival at Batehaven.

She signed off with Christmas wishes, a "love" and a single "kiss" and Bazza carefully folded the letter back into the envelope. He would reread it a number of times. His thoughts were interrupted by the beep of his iPad.

Bazza opened the large group email from his niece, now living in New York. His eyes flashed across an array of emojis. 

Memes expressed deeper feelings and frustrations.

The written text was littered with abbreviations from "LOL", "OMG" and "BRB" to quite a few "WTFs". He shook his head, still wondering how her life was fairing. He closed the iPad.

He picked up his favourite pen, carefully dated the top of the page and began 'Dear…'

John Longhurst is a former industrial advocate and political adviser. He currently works as an English and History teacher on the South Coast of NSW.

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