It has been two months since I disconnected from social media. The first few days had been a little strange as I found myself scanning my phone for the familiar app that was no longer there. Sipping my coffee I reflected on how quickly the world had gone from letter writing to phone calls and then to email and finally social media. The last year had been especially tough for me and yet I had found it uncomfortable to “broadcast” our families intimate struggles with life and death through social media. In fact, I confess to being very comfortable no longer being tied to the popular platform.
Retrieving my letter from the printer I sign it and fold it, placing it into an envelope. How would my friend feel when she opened the letter? Letter writing had been something I had grown up with. My family had migrated from our New Zealand home to Canada when I was just 5 years old. We had made the journey by ship. It was an age when phone calls across the world were costly and so letters were the bridge to those we had left behind. Needless to say, I did not receive many letters myself, indeed the only ones I have any memory of were the letters from my Nana.
A letter would arrive, written on thin “airmail” paper, lined in blue. In deference to my age, each word was constructed in distinctive printed letters rather than the cursive handwriting reserved for her correspondence with my mother. Her letters always started with a comment on the correspondence she had received from me, followed by a story about the farm animals - the principal protagonist was Mrs Duck. At the bottom of every letter Nana, more than a competent artist, would illustrate her story with pen and ink or watercolour signed “love, Nana xxx”.
Nana was a farmer's wife and she filled her letters with news of the farm and its animal inhabitants. These letters remained my most treasured item, each one read and re-read, folded and placed carefully in a small tin adorned with a picture of a young girl cuddling a cat. While the cat’s made me ill, my Nana loved them and therefore they were loved by me. I kept these childhood letters safe until they vanished when I was about 15yrs old. The final letter she wrote to me, weeks before her death at the age of 82yrs is stored safely in my old leather writing case.
My Nana was my anchor and we continued to write to each other throughout my life. As I grew from child to woman, the content of the letters became more intimate and therefore more meaningful. A wise and generous woman, my Nana continues to influence my life long after her death. The mother of eight children and grandmother to more than 38 grandchildren she made a gift of her time to me without hesitation.
Each grandchild remembers Nana a little differently based on the role she played in their lives. I remember her as a strong and independent woman. My Uncle - the keeper of the family stories - recalls she was always this way. She worked as a chauffeur and housemaid from the age of 16 years and was always the driver in her own household. As a young, unmarried woman she worked with the apparently singular purpose of flying with Sir Kingsford Smith, a dream that came true on 2 February 1933. The fact that the ticket from that flight survived her after her death is testimony to the importance of that encounter. She married my Pa in 1934.
I holidayed on the farm on many occasions and my favourite time was the early mornings. Pa would be away in the milking shed and the house was silent. It was a well-understood rule that this quiet interlude was Nana’s exclusive time to begin her day with a cup of tea and the newspaper - a ritual I respected and have taken with me to my adult life. In the early morning, a cup of coffee and the mornings' news at hand, I pay silent homage to the woman that was my Nana.