I’m not really sure of when it started, or how old I was – my guess is that it’s been about 20 years that my Uncle George and I have been regularly sending letters to each other by post. I know the details of his home address as well as my own, having written it line-by-line on the front of envelopes for as long as I can remember. Letters and postcards of all shapes and sizes – some of mine less exciting, but George’s always packed with fascinating stories and funny quips that would make me smile and picture him chuckling as if he were speaking to me face-to-face.
George is my Grandma’s uncle – he’s 93, he lives in East London, and he’s one of the most brilliant people I’ve ever known. He’s sharp, witty, and charismatic, with a large circle of friends and family members that cherish both his kindness and generosity. In fact, the vast turn-out at his 90th birthday a few years ago was enough to tell anyone that George is a man who is greatly loved by so many.
I doubt I’d ever write letters if it weren’t for George, but it’s for him that I love writing. Even when I feel like I don’t have much to say and whatever I’ve chosen to babble about is a bit boring, he’s always been on the other end, his eyes on my words, reading intently.
I find there is so much substance and detail that you can pack into a letter – providing you have enough paper and ink in the printer – that you couldn’t possibly convey in just an email or text. And what I really love about letters is their longevity – keeping them to then dig them out again years later. Every letter that George has even written to me is kept inside in a large box buried within my wardrobe, and sometimes I’ll re-read them and reminisce over stories and experiences from years gone by. Requests to send photographs of my long hair for my Auntie Annie, George’s late wife, who apparently loved to keep track of such things (I would have been about eight or nine-years-old at the time). Announcements of passing exams, getting into University, jobs, ridiculous stories and stupid things I had done. From him – stories of trips, holidays, feeling poorly, but then feeling better, and muddling on through. Most of it good news we had to share, some of it bad, some of it truly tragic.
I stopped handwriting my letters to George a long time ago (postcards aside) but George still writes almost everything out by hand when he can. He’s an extraordinary calligraphist and on occasion he’s sent me work that I now have displayed on my bedroom wall.
It breaks my heart that one day George and I won’t be able to write to each other any more, but perhaps I’ll still continue to write letters whenever I can, and for whoever will read them. And it will still be George I think of when I place the stamp onto the envelope, and seal it shut.