Oh, the joys of letter-writing!

  • Living
  • Friday, 08 Apr 2016

Every letter she wrote was carefully thought out and crafted. And every letter she received from her loved ones lifted her spirits and brought encouragement. Photo: EPA/Alexander Heinl


In the early 1940s, letters and telegrams were the only available means of communication in my family. Part of my salary as a nurse was always kept aside to buy scented stationery or letter writing pads. I would anxiously finger and touch the stationery, feeling the patterns embossed within the texture of the paper itself. The accompanying envelopes would also have delicate patterns of nature and some would smell of lavender or rose essence.

My mother always knew it was a letter from me because she could identify the fragrance immediately. My family lived in a remote village while I worked outstation in a populated district where the happenings made letter-writing expressive and visual to the reader.

The postman would ring his bell to signal there were letters in the mailbox. The sight of a letter would make the day brighter.

It gave my parents hope and happiness upon receiving news that I was thriving in my career, caring for the health of the public at large, and being the law-abiding and God-fearing daughter they had raised. It allowed them to re-examine, think and laugh over, comment on the latest news, while sharing with all in the family. The letter would then be placed in a drawer of previous correspondence tied with raffia and protected with mothballs.

There was a definite energy whenever I decided to write a letter to a friend or family member. My letter-writing kit contained paper, pen, envelopes, stamps and some caring words from the heart. I would make sure that I was comfortably seated in my room with a window opened.

I held my Parker pen given by my father upon graduating as a staff nurse. He told me that I should always glide a fountain pen across the page. It allowed me to write for hours without tiring or staining my hand.

The expression of language should, as nearly as possible, be the same as how the writer would converse with someone privately. There were so many positive attributes that I discovered and developed, such as imagination, curiosity, patience and most of all, how to open my heart and be more understanding, loving and kinder.

On my way back from work, I would always think of a gentle opening sentence to touch the hearts of whomever I was about to write to. I learnt very early that the intimacy of tone and phrase should carry affection and exuberance without restraint, especially in long letters of friendship and love.

Yet again, every sentence put down must be thought out carefully. I would imagine the receiver’s smile or eyebrow raised and it made me desire to continue writing and narrating more.

I wanted all my letters to be the record of the future I desired, a reflection of my aspirations, sharing of joy and disappointments, and most of all justification of my moral worth. Occasionally, I would surrender to heartbreaking rejections, confiding all my vulnerability, troubles and sorrows to close friends.

Soon a letter of sympathetic understanding and advice to tide over my worries or reinforce my self-esteem would come forth and restore my fragile faith.

Every time I felt alone, I would take out my wooden chest filled with dozens of letters at various stages of my life and suddenly felt transported back to another time and place. It satisfied my longing for those whom I missed dearly and stayed miles apart from each another.

Tracing their stylish cursive handwriting brought back memories of the familiar faces whose warm embrace validated my existence.

In my darkest moments, their messages of hope and wisdom made me treasure the wisdom of living simply.

E-mails and e-cards can never replace the personal touch of a traditional letter. Photo: Filepic
E-mails and e-cards can never replace the personal touch of a traditional letter. Photo: Filepic

My late husband was a pragmatic writer whose life revolved around his work. He had the habit of keeping copies of all his written correspondence on carbonised paper and pads.

Much as he wrote letters of encouragement while we were courting, I learned a lot about my future spouse from his writing. Not much intimacy and affection was contained in his letters. However, I was convinced that my future spouse was a protective and thoughtful gentleman.

When my cancer metastasised, my daughter kept my spirits up by documenting my journey as a recovering survivor via photobook. What I wanted most was to tell my children to pray for me, call me and send me letters and let me know that they loved me.

I needed hope to extend my life and if ultimately I had to leave this world suddenly, I would have lived joyously and nearly pain-free longer than the doctors had expected because someone cared enough to take the time and send me a handwritten piece of love.

When I was finally discharged from hospital, I sent a handwritten Thank You card to the team of doctors, physiotherapist and nurses. It was a simple act of gratitude; I wrote how their life-saving efforts and concern hastened my recovery. I realised it would have made all of them feel needed in their demanding medical professions.

Now that I have inherited grandchildren and in-laws, I still continue to write in celebration of life. On birthdays and anniversaries, I diligently write a few words of encouragement, reassurance and appreciation. I post them in hopes and anticipation of a response. When I do not hear from anyone, I feel sad and empty.

Everyone says that writing letters is old-fashioned and a dying art. I know that at my age – close to 87 – it is the best way for me to convey my affection. Modern technology with its cellphones, e-mails and text messages has sadly over-shadowed letter-writing and made it seem hopelessly outdated.

With what little time I have left, I will continue to write letters as it allows me to confide my deepest thoughts and share them with people I care.

Old Is Gold is a platform for readers aged 55 and above to share their wealth of experience and take on life. E-mail star2@thestar.com.my. Published contributions will be paid, so please include your full name, IC number, address and phone number.

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Oh , the joys of letter-writing!


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