Tuesday, 23 February 2016

A Letter From Another Mother

2016

A letter from my Mum is instantly recognisable. Plain white envelope nabbed from Dad’s office supplies, addressed in her beautiful cursive handwriting, contents that don’t quite fit. The contents never fit because usually she’s posting some photos she’s dug up from somewhere, or a hastily folded article from the local newspaper my Grandad reads. On this occasion, the envelope contained a note from her, and another letter on yellowing paper. More beautiful cursive writing, fountain ink long since dried, from a mother other than my own.
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2010

I attend a meet up for people working in charities where I meet Rosie, a brilliant woman who is about to become a mother herself. A few months later I move to Glasgow, I'm invited to join a book group and when I turn up she’s there too. Our friendship grows, and some months later we’re in a West End pub drinking cocktails after an event. Talk turns, as it often does, to where we grew up and how we came to be where we are today. I mention I first lived in a tiny East coast town called Inverbervie and Rosie slams her drink down on the table and shouts “I’m from Inverbervie!” As we reminisce, mainly about the Bervie Chipper, Rosie unpicks a memory from her past and realises we’ve met before.
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2002-Present

Over the years I have amassed a huge collection of beautiful stationery, all tucked neatly away in what I affectionately call my “correspondence box”. Wherever I go pick up a few pretty notecards, often by independent designers, with best intentions of sending carefully crafted missives to friends. I imagine my notes landing on doormats, delighting recipients and bringing much needed joy to their days. My ego knows no boundaries when it comes to letter writing.
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1987-8

I live in a house in Inverbervie with my Mum, Dad and my baby sister. Halfway up the stairs is a small mezzanine with a room off to either side and on the right side there is a window into a bedroom.
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2010

Rosie remembers this window. Remembers visiting our house. Remembers that my sister's name is Rhea and that we played together as kids.
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2012

I move to London. Away from my friends.
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2014

One of my best friends moves to New Zealand. Within a year another moves to Mallorca. I don't when I'll see them again, when I'll hug them tight or read their kids a story. I don't know when we'll next share a bottle of wine and a table full of seafood, as we often do. Seven of us create a WhatsApp group simply called *clap emoji*. We are extremely proud of ourselves.
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1993

We live in Hampshire and my Mum receives a letter from a friend, a friend who is dying. She says she's feeling well just now, very very happy, the kids are doing great and they're planning a trip.
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2010

Rosie gets me to ask my Mum if she knew hers and I text her immediately. "Yes" comes the answer and we are all delighted by this new information. Rosie says she's sorry to say that her Mum died when she was younger and I realise with a heavy heart that I knew this, a faint memory of my own Mum's sadness rising to the surface.
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2000

I move to Aberdeen, leaving behind friends I've known since I was five. We stay in touch, have the occasional phone call, we visit a couple of times, we head off to college and our new lives and our new memories. We grow apart, add each other on Facebook, occasionally say hi, occasionally occupy each other's thoughts. It takes a while, but I make new friends.
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2014

A letter from my Mum is instantly recognisable. Plain white envelope nabbed from Dad’s office supplies, addressed in her beautiful cursive handwriting, contents that don’t quite fit. This time the contents are a selection of photos including one from a day we visited Rosie's family. She and I are squished together on a sofa with our sisters, six of us in total. I email a copy to Rosie and we marvel at how cute we are and how much her youngest sister looks like her youngest daughter.
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2016

I unfold the yellowing pages and read the beautiful words that address my mother so sincerely.

She is feeling well just now, very very happy, the kids are doing great and they're planning a trip.

It makes me see my Mum in an entirely new light. I recognise how hard it must have been for her to move away from her friends, to keep in touch only by letter or the occasional phone call. To find the time to sit down to write despite being a full time Mum to three girls who had a lot of activities to do. I realise how hard it must have been to lose a friend in her 30s. I know she lost touch with a lot of friends from Scotland, friends who didn't have or make time to write back, and that she felt like she was always the one making the effort.
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2015

My sister moves to Australia, following in the footsteps of my other one who has settled out there with her husband. I cry my eyes out at the airport and feel in physical agony on the train back to work not knowing when I'll see her again.
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2016

I open my Twitter DMs and send a message. "My Mum has been having a clearout and she's posted me a letter that your Mum sent her in 1993. Would you like me to send it on to you?" Rosie says that'd be lovely and a couple of hours later it's in the mail.

I feel grateful that we've stayed in touch and that it's so easy for me to pass on this letter from her mother. I feel grateful that I still get post from my own. I romanticise the act of letter writing, picturing myself with a steaming cup of coffee, an empty desk and a clear head. I picture myself pouring my heart out onto paper, but I don't sit down to write, don't confess my deepest thoughts to a distant friend, don't send letters because I don't need to.

I open *clap emoji* group and tell my friends about the letter, and that I am grateful I can speak to them whenever I want to. I tell them we must all live to be 100 and they agree. We make plans to live on a commune in France. We share heart emojis. We are there for each other in an instant.

I speak to my sisters in Australia every single day. I speak to my *clap emoji* friends almost every day and cherish the nights where everyone posts a quick update or a selfie, what they're eating, what they're drinking. I love the fact that I can see the view from my friend's house in New Zealand, that I can see how quickly all the kids are growing and share in their happy times. I love that if I am stressed or upset I can have a moan and be comforted instantly. The thought of pouring my heart out in a letter and having to wait weeks or more for a response makes me worry what I'd be carrying around in the pit of my stomach that whole time.

I am so grateful for technology, and the ability to stay close to my friends even when we're thousands of miles and months and months apart. And I'm grateful that my Mum kept a letter for 23 years so I could realise just how lucky I am.

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