I’ve spent the last couple of days on a website I first came across last year, when my friend Zino Asalor sent me the link. The website is www.lettersofnote.com and it contains hundreds of letters (about 900, in all) written at different times in the past, by different people. There are letters by people you probably never heard of, and there are letters by popular people like Albert Einstein and Nikolas Tesla. The letters cover a wide range of topics; from a letter of a grieving father to his friends, to that written by an 8yr old girl with gay parents to President Barack Obama (and his reply). I haven’t read all the letters but the site got me thinking.
Not too long ago, and yet, long enough for some kids to have no idea what I’m talking about, letters were our major means of communication. You wrote a letter when you were happy and you wrote when you were sad, you even wrote to yell at people you were mad at (and no, you didn’t write angry letters in capital letters). In primary school, we learnt the intricacies of letter writing. We learnt about the informal letter which we wrote to our friends and which opened with a variation of ‘Dear X…. How are you? I hope all is well with you. If so, glory be to God’. We were made to write many of these to our friends, real and imagined who lived in far flung places like London and Paris, or if you were in the village, to an aunt in Lagos. We were also taught about the formal letters we were going to write as job applications when the seemingly everlasting years of secondary and university studies were over. Those letters had two addresses and ended with ‘Yours Faithfully’, under which you appended your budding signature and your name. Those letters never got posted but we got the gist of letters. I doubt such things are still taught in schools. These days, we have many 16-, 17- and even 18yr olds, well versed in the virtual world of instant messaging (BBM, Whatsapp, 2go, to mention but a few) who have never written a real life ink-and-paper letter.
The thing about letters is this; one day, you’re going through old stuff, doing a bit of spring cleaning, then you happen upon this folded sheet(s) of paper. It’s a letter! From your mum, or your dad, or an old boyfriend… of course you read it again! It makes you laugh (or it can make you cry), it brings back memories of times gone by so vividly that they’re like scenes flashing before your eyes. If they’re sad memories, you can thank God that you’re not where you used to be. You may even remember some mischief done. This reminds me of the letter I wrote my dad a few weeks after resuming boarding school in JSS 1. The school was in Abuja, daddy was in Minna, Mum and siblings were in Lagos. Boarding school was not as glamorous as I had been deceived into believing. I was tired and I wanted out but I knew telling him straight up was not going to achieve anything, so I wrote a letter:
I’m doing my best to settle into the routine of my new school. Everything is fine, except for the food. We are fed rice in the morning, eba in the afternoon and yam in the evening. Daddy, kwashiorkor is staring me in the face, please come and save me.
Your loving daughter,
I wish my dad had written back. It would have been better than his reaction. I didn’t hear back, but I wasn’t worried. Visiting day was around the corner and I could plead my case in person, tears streaming down my face.
Hehehehe…….. He came on visiting day, with a food flask filled with BEANS and plantain and said ‘I know you’re tired of carbohydrate and bringing rice for you would have been too much. Also, there’s boiled eggs in this nylon, and kuli kuli in this other one, to relieve the monotony.’ The heartbreak was indescribable. I mean, it was visiting day and everybody looked forward to ‘home food’ of different variety that was infinitely better than ‘school food’ and daddy showed up with beans! It was a double tragedy because he had also effectively shot down my attempts at leaving that school. That struggle would eventually take four years to come to fruition. In the meantime, I managed to control my emotions till he left, after which I cried myself into an exhausted sleep. A sleep from which I woke up to realize that someone had stolen the said food flask and its offending contents from under my bunk (hence the valuable lesson that no matter how bad you have it, someone else is probably envious of you!). Numerous other more pleasurable letters would pass between me and my dad, throughout my days in school, even up to the university. His letters always started with ‘Beloved’ or ‘Omo girl’ – perpetuating the belief that your parents only call you by your name when you’re in trouble – and ended with his signature ‘Aduro P’ or ‘Peter’, which was strange, because it was definitely not an invitation for you to call him by name. There were other letters from my siblings e.g. my sister begging me to describe university life to her (and she may well disown me for mentioning that)
Letters were also a way for my mum to assess your hand-writing. *sigh* – the life of a teacher’s kid. Nobody’s writing was ever good enough, but my brother got the worst of it. You see, his writing looks like everything is written at night and his letters are going to bed! I can hear my mum’s voice in me head saying ‘in spite of all the 2D exercise books I bought you these children, none of you can write well. Can’t you make your writing more like mine?’
Sadly, both my dad and I (and every other person) have become caught up in the modern day methods of calls (yeah, we’ve both stretched it to midnight calls on occasion!) and text messages that we’ve not written any letters in recent times (ok, I wrote him last month).
If you’ve ever gotten any pleasure from a letter, surprise someone today and send them a letter!
(First posted by the author here)