Tuesday. My twice-weekly check on my mother. She’s doing well, already started her walking again. Keilor Road once a day, sometimes twice. Three kilometres return. Sometimes she gets the bus home. I usually stay for lunch on these visits; make hers as well.
I parked the car in the hot bright driveway, got out, went to the letterbox, emptied it, threw five handbills (Woolworths, Priceline, Chemist Warehouse and two pizza places) in the bin near the side gate, and went inside. I gave her the mail. There were Christmas cards, and bills, and one or two of those appeal letters with blackmail lines on the front of the envelope. Donate $20 or this dog dies.
An aerogram floated out of the bunch of letters and drifted down to the floor. I picked it up. I recognised the handwriting on the front. She’s been getting these for years, longer than I’ve been around. The return address is - always has been - a small West Midlands town in England.
Do they still call them aerograms? You write on fine blue paper and then you fold it up and seal it and then you walk to the corner and flip it into the post box and they fit a million of them in the sack for the overnight mail plane to the other side of the world. Light as a feather. Zoom. A million stories. If people still wrote them.
This person does. My mother receives three or four a year, and one always arrives just before Christmas.
He’s been sending them since the war. He used to send photos as well, of his English garden and his too-neat flower beds and a tabby cat by the back door and sometimes his wife standing near the flowers with a pair of secateurs in gloved hands smiling at the camera in the pale English sunshine.
My mother opened the aerogram. The handwriting used to be a robust hand with fat, confident capital Bs and Ds and florid lower-case y and g tails. Now it was uneven and jittery, and ran down a hill to the end of each line, as if tired.
One day the letters will stop.
1944. He was a sailor in the British navy. She was farewelling a relative at Port Melbourne and he was onboard the ship and they struck up a shouted conversation over the side of the deck amidst hundreds of others and he wrote something on a piece of paper and screwed it up and threw it at her and she caught it.
Had she not caught it none of this would have happened. It could have fallen in the sea.
They wrote to each other, and they never stopped. He married and she married and they kept writing. The families became acquainted and after the war her family sent food parcels to his; the favour was returned with sewn household items and clothes. There wasn’t a lot of food in post-war Britain, but they had plenty of skills and some material. Probably not a lot. But they sent them anyway.
I asked my mother if she had kept the letters. "I did for a while," she replied. "I think I threw the old ones out a year or so ago. No room."
50-plus years is a "while". I love understatement.