Recently it was my pleasure to sit down on a Saturday afternoon, turn on the television and scan through the channels to find something that may interest me, and sure enough on the Christian Channel I noticed a movie was about to start titled "The Letter Writer".
This is not a review of that lovely movie that gave rise to me to call over my wife of almost 38 years to say thank you.
Set in the US, a high school lass named Maggie Fuller received a most wonderful praising letter of who she was as a person signed by a Sam Worthington. The long and short of this story was that she tracked him down, a very elderly gentleman in a aged care facility, and discovered that he selected people out of the telephone book and wrote the most inspiring letters.
It was a lovely story with the mandatory twists and turns, heartache and tears, joys and pleasures and the rest of it.
But that movie 'The Letter Writer' gave rise to a growing trend that I have been aware of in my ministry in recent months, that instead of the hand written letter being dispatched by Email, many are returning to it – postage stamp, envelope .....
On the 5 November 2010 – four years ago – I wrote an article on the virtues of hand written letters.
In that article I spoke of a large air-tight chest in my office (which is still there) and in which are the family archives - most significant in historical terms are the handwritten letters dating from the early 1930s. There are courtship letters written by my parents leading up to their marriage in 1947. There are letters to and from each other when my mother was in hospital for weeks-on-end in pregnancies and my father was on their farm, 60 miles away.
There are letters from my grandmother. There are letters from my father's eldest sister to whom he was fondly attached. There are letters from treasured friends to my mother; these were girl friends that were in the Land Army together during WWII. They remained friends over a life time and many letters were written. We know, we have them.
There are a number of things we can say about such handwritten letters, as they were the usual form of communication - typewriters have never been a custom household item in Australia (as was a radio). It is an ancient craft. The Old and New Testaments frequently speak of letters, scrolls and documents.
In the days up to the Industrial Revolution, where not everyone could read and write, people thought it so important to send personal messages that they employed scribes to write their letters for them on special occasions. Seals became a major part of the security system of the time, and that would enable the recipient to be confident that the letter had not been tampered with if the seal was intact.
Another aspect of such letters is that they reveal the thinking and context of ordinary people in a particular decade. This the value of WWI letters home in this centenary year of that conflict. So too in the thirties as my father writes of his 'dairy separator' as the first in the district at Crediton (Eungella, Mackay, Qld).
My mother in the late forties writes of their Crediton farm house having the first septic toilet system in the district. When the local farmers and wives visited them for their 'tea kettling' party (welcome home after the honeymoon), the ladies checked out the new fangled 'chain' operated toilet. Soon after, we learnt from the letters, every farm house had a septic system.
The style of letters changed over the years. Even today, I would never initiate a letter to my wife without mentioning her name. Yet there is a consistency within these letters with the words: "To my darling wife". "To my friend". "To my niece". "To Auntie". "To Mother and Father". A most important event of every week day in Australia was the delivery of the mail.
The entire nation survived on mail deliveries. We have little idea today as to how important the mail was to everyone in Australia. This was still an era where England was considered 'home' even if you had never been there. Getting mail from 'home' for generations of Australians was paramount to national comfort and general well-being.
These letters were very personalised. Intimacy could be generated by the use of a single word; letters were carefully crafted and could be of a mesmerising nature. The pace of life was slower, it might take a letter a week to get from the city to a farming district. 'Courting letters' were very precious where every word was seasoned.
Now, we live in a different era. The internet, emailing, facebook and twitter and the rest of it have all played their part in abbreviating sentences. When someone sends you a handwritten letter today, it is regarded as perhaps a little special. In our faith-financed mission, I have maintained a process of hand-writing. Often when asking for funds for a special project, I will write the letters by hand. When receipting gifting, I will hand write a thank you note. When my wife Delma hand crafts cards for my ministry, I always add a personal note to the recipient.
There is still a lot to be said for hand-writing letters, as in those carefully crafted in the family archive chest. This craft is being rediscovered. My wife Delma writes a short hand written letter in the cards she creates and the response is remarkable. Why not try it, perhaps even to give your local post office a shock - "Hey, look at this, a hand written addressed envelope!"
Dr Mark Tronson is a Baptist minister (retired) who served as the Australian cricket team chaplain for 17 years (2000 ret) and established Life After Cricket in 2001. He was recognised by the Olympic Ministry Medal in 2009 presented by Carl Lewis Olympian of the Century. He mentors young writers and has written 24 books, and enjoys writing. He is married to Delma, with four adult children and grand-children.
Mark Tronson's archive of articles can be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/mark-tronson.html