My definition of a real letter is one that’s handwritten, popped in an envelope and finished off with a paper postage stamp featuring something eyecatching and unique to the country of origin.
Here in Ecija it’s not possible for me to buy a supply of stamps for Australia and just wack them on a letter to toss in the post box. I can get them for Europe but no futher. I have to physically visit the post office, hand the letter over the counter where they smack an ugly rubber stamp on to show I’ve paid and eventually my letter will arrive in my parents letter box in Queensland.
Memories of days at boarding school, long school breaks at home and the angst of waiting for the post to bring news from friends and family, exotic stamps from far away lands and the flutter of anticipation as I pulled the carefully folded sheets from their envelope all came flooding back to me as I meandered down the cobbled streets.
I usually knew who a letter was from simply by glancing at the handwriting. If a letter was from someone special I used to wait until I could find a private spot before carefully opening the envelope to savour the contents. Many letters I would read and re-read. Some I would rush to answer and then hot foot it to the post office to catch the next mail.
There is an authenticity to handwritten correspondence as it’s seldom to re-write a letter (unless it’s one of those rare job applications that demand a handwritten letter). Thoughts are allowed to tumble across the page pretty much as they form in our minds. It’s this element which makes the handwritten item so personal and special. With a typed letter is all too easy to delete, replace, spell-check and more.
Handwritten letters are very revealing and I don’t mean in the sense of a formal evaluation. The mood of the writer is evident; rushed or relaxed; happy or sad; irritated or euphoric. Lots of scribbles in the margins and PS’s meant they had more to say after they’d finished. Watermarks (tears or perspiration drops), coffee stains, ink blotches (if you used fountain pen), crossing outs and the occasional food splats also appeared on letters between very close family and friends. I think of letters as having personality.
My English grandmother instilled in me that a proper letter should be written on Basildon Bond stationery. I always wrote my thank you letters after a weekend with friends but since I moved to Australia so many years ago, there haven’t been those occasions. Instead we send emails to each other or make a phone call.
I still have a small stash of special letters tucked away. They are part of my history, testament to special relationships and friendships that an email or typed letter can never hope to compete with. A real letter lasts a lifetime and beyond.
I used to be known as a very good letter writer, but since the advent of emails these have dropped more and more by the wayside. I write to my parents, my niece and a few old friends who don’t have emails. I’m resolving to write more real letters over the coming months even if the electronic versions are faster and cheaper.