Found: One Time Machine

By Mairi Mallon on

The power of words should never be underestimated. They can transport you in time and space, I’m sure. And yesterday proved it to me.

I was clearing out the attic in my parents’ house recently and came across an ancient box in the corner. And I opened it last night. In it were letters from 1982 to 1990 – from over three decades ago. In this parcel, there are loving and practical letters from my mother for when I first when to boarding school (I’d never really lived in the UK before) with warnings to not go out with wet hair, instructions on how to buy a winter coat and a strange note about keeping my feet dry and warm. In an age before emails and text, let alone instant messaging, there were long, sometimes mundane, often funny, letters and postcards from friends – some of whom are now long gone. Some are written on pages ripped from jotters, others carefully penned on coloured paper, a few written with coloured ink. There are silly notes, invites to parties, balls, and eventually sweet letters and cards from young men, filled with love, angst and worry, just as they were stepping out into this world.

And after pouring over this time capsule that had been buried for so many years, it got me to thinking about my own children and how they will not have a stash of pictures in a box, or a hoard of letters put aside to pour over at a later date.

For me, letters were important. I went to boarding school when I was 14 and it was the only way to stay in touch, other than a single payphone, tucked under the stairs, which was constantly engaged. So every morning you looked for a letter – a life-line out of the greyness of the boarding house.

I say I’d still rather get a letter over a text any day. But it has been a long time since I actually got a letter (rather than a bill) through the post. But equally it has been years since I wrote a letter. I can hear the excuses going through my head – “I type faster than I can write. Do I have any writing paper? Ink? My fountain pen… where is it??? Do I still have their actual address…” - all as I reach for my phone and text my friends.

There is something amazing about picking up a bit of paper and actually writing something – the way your emotions spill out through your handwriting. While it is so easy to send an instant message, a quick text, hit the like button, etc., sitting down and writing is something else, a longer, more thoughtful process.

That said, would I change it back? The romantic in me says ‘yes’, that our children don’t have photo albums they can thumb through, or stacks of love letters. But no. They can delete the blurred images, have their own photo albums, and can be in touch in an instant, never having to wait a week for a response. So, no. I like this new world of communication. I’m on pretty much everything (even Snapchat, even though it blows my old brain), and love finding out how to use new tools. And what would I do without facetime and Skype?

Last night, sitting on my bed, surrounded by teenage letters, I texted half a dozen friends to say I’d found their scribbles, took pictures of the daft writings, and sent them on. Within minutes I was giggling over my find with them as if they were in the room.

I love the letters, and it is a shame the kids won’t have a physical thing to keep, but it is a small price to pay to be able to keep in touch with friends around the world.



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