‘You’ve Got Mail’

A 60-year-old letter

Some CC readers probably remember a thing called a “letter.” You know, a piece of paper you wrote on by hand, stuffed in an envelope, affixed a stamp and then dropped into a mailbox for delivery to almost anywhere in the world. Now that emailing, texting, Facebooking, Skyping and a host of other digital communication media are available to us, personal letter writing has become pretty much passé. And that’s a shame. Let me explain.

Recently I received a phone call from an older friend of mine who said he’d just read my latest column on Providence (July 23). He wanted to meet for coffee because he had an idea for a follow-up column based on his own providential experience. So we met at a nearby Tim Hortons. He brought along a 60-year-old letter. It was an Aerogramme sent by him from Saskatoon, Saskatchewan to a small town in Friesland, Holland dated June 1958. So how had this letter come back to my friend in Edmonton so many years later?

First impressions
Last year my friend had been invited to attend a reunion of former classmates in Friesland who had all just turned 80. Unfortunately, he couldn’t attend because his wife was unable to travel. When his wife went to be with the Lord this spring, he let some of his elderly friends in Friesland know. Not long after, he received a letter containing his Aerogramme written almost 60 years to the day before the May long weekend, and one month after death of his dear wife. His friend had saved all the letters from Canada over the years and believed that this one would be particularly meaningful now. It was written in Dutch. A few sentences stood out. They describe how my friend, at age 21, went from Saskatoon to Edmonton on the May long weekend in 1958 to a Christian young people’s rally. Here is my attempt at translation: 
We had a couple of wonderful days in Edmonton. We made some fine friends there and I met a very pretty chickie there whom I thought I’d get along with very well, even if she is a bit older than I. But that shouldn’t matter too much, should it? I’ve subsequently had some correspondence with her and it’s clearly more than just a casual letter exchange. Is it time to light up a celebratory cigar? If it wasn’t for the fact that I had some business to attend to in Saskatoon, I would have happily remained in Edmonton. 

Imagine getting this letter back almost 60 years to the day after meeting his dear wife for the first time!

If email had been invented 60 years ago, do you think my friend would have received a 60-year-old email forwarded back to him in which he mentioned the momentous event of meeting the girl who would be his wife for the next 57 years? I tend to delete my sent emails within weeks, if not days, of sending them. Certainly, within 60 years, all our electronic communications will be lost in the digital ether. Without the records provided by hard copy written letters, social historians of the future will have a very difficult time reconstructing the lives of ordinary people. And that’s a shame.

  • Bob is a retired Professor of Education (The King’s University) living in Edmonton.

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