Tuesday 22 January 2008

Hey Mister Postman....

Grandad Ambassador was born in New York in 1915. He moved to Dublin with his brothers, sisters and mother when he was about 7. His father remained in New York, working on the building sites until he could save enough money to make the journey across the Atlantic and join his family.

Unfortunately he never made it to Dublin -shortly after they left he fell ill and, after what appears to have been a long and ultimately fruitless fight to regain his health, he passed away. During this time he continued working and regularly wrote letters to his wife and children.

We have those letters at home. Grandad Ambassador, an obsessively neat and tidy man by nature, had lovingly kept them in a beautiful mahogany box with all his most treasured possessions (including a lock of his mother's hair). Although 86 years old, they are more or less in perfect condition - the paper has become brittle over time and the ink is beginning to fade but there is not a dog ear in sight. The only creases are those where my great grandfather folded the paper before putting it in the envelope. It quickly becomes apparent when you read the letters why Grandad Ambassador treasured them so. Apart from being well written and articulate, they tell a genuinely sweet love story which pours unashamedly from the pages.

From reading the letters, we think he knew his time on earth was drawing to a close as he wrote the last few. Stoically, he never mentioned his poor health, he continued to work and to sent money home. The levels of love and affection evident in them were perhaps, with the benefit of hindsight, those of somebody resigned to never seeing his family again.

There are also a number of letters, sent after his passing, from one of his work colleagues to my great-grandmother. They tell of my great grandfather's last few days, how he passed on peacefully in his sleep, how his colleagues had organised the funeral details and held a whip around to cover the cost of the funeral expenses. (There was some money left over, which they sent to my great grandmother - but not before seeking legal advice as to the most tax-efficient way for her to receive it). I have no doubt that these letters were a tremendous source of comfort and consolation to her - to know her husband was looked after during his final days, that he was afforded a fine burial and that he had such good, close friends. (Why would she have kept them so long otherwise?)

In this era of rapid advancement and instant communication, the art of letter writing is dying and that is an enormous shame. Perhaps it is already dead. How will my great grandchildren know about my life? Will my text messages and emails to the close personal friend survive 86 years? Will they survive 1 year?

How can we open a window to our world so future generations will have some idea what life (and in particular our life) was like in 2008? Books, encyclopedias and the Internet will record events of major historical importance but how will individual tales of life, hardship, happiness and love survive?

Do we risk becoming the first generation in history to leave no written record of our existence?

I am aware there is a certain irony in posting this onto a blog where thousands of people could potentially read it (in reality 4 is more likely).


sheepworrier said...

As much as the whole 'txt spk' confuses and occasionally infuriates me, I was recently shown a brilliant written letter by my teenage nephew, whose texts and emails I can barely understand. He was writing to his girlfriend in America and just wanted me to read over it to make sure it sounded ok.

So, as long as there are horny, pubescent little toe-rags trying to get into eachothers undergarments, and as long as letter-writing is deemed 'romantic', then we'll be safe enough.

The Bad Ambassador said...

I'm not sure my horny, pubescent letters are the ones I want future generations to see

Caro said...

I often think about that. One of the last letters my grandmother (who was a dedicated letter-writer) wrote before she died was to a friend in England, who kept the letter as it was the last she ever received from her. That friend since died and her partner brought the letter home to give to my aunt, who was very touched and delighted to have it.

The art of letter writing is dying, and it's a shame.

Medbh said...

I have one friend who sends a letter a few times a year. Now you've made me feel guilty for throwing them away.