Thursday, 23 October 2014

Lost Letters Found

My husband’s parents died within a year of one another and as he had to sell their house, he was forced to simply pack their lives up so the new owners could move in sooner rather than later. There was no time to sort, so in the end everything was packed and relegated to the attic. Recently we took on the task of going through the cartons. It was not easy sorting through everything, especially for my husband, as he never allowed himself the luxury of grieving for his beloved parents.

Our attic was wall to wall cartons, containing an entire household. Slowly we set about organising and sorting through it all. It was sad at times, but in another sense, we had an opportunity to put things into perspective and to revisit fond memories. There were times when it was too difficult to go on, but through our efforts I have been given a once in a lifetime glimpse into the lives of my late in-laws whom I never had the pleasure of meeting and I feel as though I have truly met them as a result.

One of the first things we tackled was the stamp collection.  K's mother was an avid stamp collector and there were six large cartons to attest to that fact. Growing up, my own father was a keen philatelist and that is where my interest in stamps was born. I was a bit unprepared to take on six big boxes of stamps, mostly loose and unsorted, but I set about it one carton at a time. K wasn’t really interested in stamps but day by day he would check on my progress until finally he just joined in sorting. Hundreds of first day covers and mint plate blocks later he has a new found appreciation for this particular passion of his mother’s.

Several days into the “big sort” I reached for the next carton and under the initial layer of stamp paraphernalia, I found a lifetime of correspondence in the form of cards, letters and postcards and so we put the sorting on hold in order to explore this wonderful discovery.

Having a firm root in letter writing, I was thrilled to be privy to what I considered an intimate look into the lives of my late in-laws. What was even more amazing as we began to go through these things was that there were also drafts of letters by Phil and Johanna (my in-laws) that they had sent which added an incredible amount of depth. In reading the cards and letters and poring over the photographs still neatly tucked inside some of the envelopes, I gained a much deeper perception not only of who my husband’s parents were, but into their extended families as well. They suddenly were real to me.

Mrs. B.’s letters were much more extensive than her husband’s as she kept in contact with her sisters, one of whom lived in New Zealand and the other in Australia. There were also distant relatives in Holland and the occasional letter from Indonesia where she grew up in the Dutch East Indies. Scattered amongst all this were items received from the Red Cross during WWII when she was a prisoner of the Japanese. It was quite poignant to see the little copy books with words from happy songs carefully transcribed and patterns for things to embroider, designs she made herself, in hopes of having the luxury of being her own mistress one day and bringing them to life. As we went through these things, a picture emerged of someone I know I would have loved dearly.

Mr. B.’s letters were not so many and yet I could see he was a man of integrity and honour. There were letters from his own mother and father, addressed to him while he was away fighting in WWII. Timeless sentiments of how proud they were of him, and how their life progressed as he was away. Mundane items shared, like what they were growing in their vegetable patch, giving him some of the warmth of home. Later there were letters to and from his siblings displaying his fondness and his responsibility for them even though he was the youngest. Delving into his correspondence I came to enjoy his sense of humour and to learn that deep down he was an old softie—his secret is safe with me though. Mr. B didn’t have bundles of letters, he was a man of few words, and yet he has left a great impression upon me.

I came away from this task, thinking what a joy it really was, a labour of love. It’s renewed my passion for letters and has changed the way in which I compose my own correspondence in that I have a better sense of what to write now. I write not only to my pen pals but also to the future generations who may read these letters. I try to take the time to describe things rather than just mention them. I’ve been given the rare opportunity of getting to know “Mum and Dad” as my husband knew them and I am so pleased to have made their acquaintance.

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