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Letters - Much More Than Pen Friends

By Ashleylister @ashleylister
Letters - Much More Than Pen Friends
I can’t remember the last handwritten letter I received, not counting notes in Christmas cards. The speed and availability of social media and email has replaced all that wonderful personal touch. Occasionally I get an envelope stylishly addressed by the neat hand of a cousin in Virginia. The contents will be a printed copy of family news, fairly short with a few photos placed in the text, the same thing sent to various people. Of course, I love it and read about the events across the pond with joy. Many miles separate our branches of the family tree, it’s great to be in touch but it’s not the same as a handwritten letter. We live in electronic times. My replies or ‘letters’ are always email.
Letters were my world for a while in my mid-teens. I was horrified to learn that we had to move and to Cheshire of all places. It didn’t make sense. There we were, all happy living in Dad’s dream come true, a pub on Blackpool prom, when out of the blue his services were required elsewhere and we all had to go. My reaction was outbursts of tears, tantrums, slamming doors, and refusing to leave my friends and my school. I begged and pleaded with him to speak to the brewery, the man at the top, whatever his name was, and get the stupid idea stopped. His expertise was needed in Cheshire, but we might come back, eventually. I tried another tack. The move would disrupt my schooling. We were halfway through the fourth year, preparing for my ‘O’ levels, I needed to stay put, so I would move in with my best friend. This was the best idea I’d ever had in my life, at this point. It was perfect. We could carry on going ice-skating together on beat nights and youth club on Fridays and I would continue to study hard, her mother would make sure of it. No. It wasn’t happening. My world came crashing down and I, with loud protests declaring complete hate for Cheshire and all who had brought his about, had no choice but to pack my belongings ready for the move. It was March. I was streaming with a heavy cold, as if the ordeal wasn’t miserable enough. We stopped for a meal on the M6 at Knutsford services and I tearfully called my friend from a payphone.   It had been decided that we would write to each other, often, and we did. Letters went backwards and forwards between Blackpool and the place in Cheshire from myself and four others on a regular basis. Turquoise ink on bright orange, pink or lime green paper, such was the fashion. We used fountain pens and recorded our daily lives, news from school, family news, gossip about who’s in trouble for what. We wrote about our favourite music, pop stars, television, fashion and everything that filled our lives. The letters were my lifeline into the world I’d been forced to leave behind. They were so much more than just friends keeping in touch. I didn’t settle in our new place. I didn’t fit in at school, where everyone was ‘mod’ and into soul music, Ben Sherman shirts and two-tone fabric skirts. I was all prog rock, jeans, lacy blouses and beads. My family moved back to Blackpool after a few months. Nothing to do with me being rebellious, I promise. Dad had done whatever needed doing and the family could settle back into normality. I kept the letters for years after that and how I wish I still had them now. What an illustration of the lives of our mix of teenage girls in 1971, our opinions, worries, our hopes. We all went separate ways as we grew up and two of those friends have now passed away. I remember them all with fondness. Our letters kept us together when I was absent and to be included at that time meant a great deal to me.
As for Cheshire, I have returned to the town and the pub as an adult. It’s very nice, no teenage angst.
In later years, I was staying with my family in Virginia and loved to receive letters from my father. His beautiful handwriting on thin, air mail paper brought me news from home. And later still, when he was in the USA and I was here, our pale blue letters to each other flew the Atlantic on a weekly basis. I’ve kept all those.
I found this poem by Hugh McMillan   Here is a letter come across the ocean over the back of a world curved like a whale. I unwrap it, like tissue, and sentences spill out, as though the seal on a jar has broken, coils of cornflower blue on paper thin as shell. I saw a sailor’s valentine once in a museum in Nantucket Sound, a mosaic of broken scallop glued in a compass rose. ‘Writ from the heart’ it said. Words come best like that: in ink or blood, when the source is from a major vein. I read, and understand this much: if ink sees off time and miles, then so must love.    Hugh McMillan Thanks for reading, Pam x   Letters - Much More Than Pen Friends
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