I was thinking how difficult it has been over the past 12 months for older people not able to see their family. And it’s hard for their families, also. But they are probably hardier than we give them credit for.
The older generation will have grown up in families that had relations spread across the world whom they’d never met: aunts, uncles and cousins. My granny had three siblings in America. I never met them, but I knew all about them. That is because they wrote letters to Granny. I remember the postman, Jimmy McCabe, whistling up the path every morning and Granny watching out for letters from America. It sticks out in my mind how much she looked forward to receiving such letters.
[...] they would sit around the kitchen table as Granny would read the letter. She was in her 80s or 90s and she prided herself on her wonderful eyesight
The distinctive airmail envelope with its blue and red-coloured edging created an air of excitement. Granny would make time to get the mid-morning breakfast cleared away before sitting down to read the letter. And she would read it out loud. And again on Sunday, when her four children would be visiting – they would sit around the kitchen table as Granny would read the letter. She was in her 80s or 90s and she prided herself on her wonderful eyesight. While Dad, my uncle and my aunties would scramble for their glasses, Granny would say: “Sure I’ll read it out myself.”
Granny actually had two friends on the Titanic
When her siblings left on the boat for America in the 1920s, Granny only saw them once more in her life – when she went to America in the 1950s to visit them. After that, the only communication was by letter until she got the phone into the house in the 1980s.
Granny actually had two friends on the Titanic. She was born in 1895 and died in 1994, so I had some great conversations with her about momentous events in history which she remembered – such as the sinking of the Titanic and the 1916 Rising.
When I think of it now, I regret that I didn’t record some of those conversations, considering the business I’m in. She remembered the going-away party for her neighbours heading off on the Titanic. It was called a “wake”, because when young people were emigrating back then, chances were they would never be back and their families would never see them again.
But at least modern technology allowed for us to screen time, Zoom, WhatsApp or whatever you are having yourself in order to virtually reach out to loved ones
Christmas was difficult for so many of us; unable to share the day together with family members. It must have been particularly hard for parents missing out on welcoming home their children and grandchildren from abroad. But at least modern technology allowed for us to screen time, Zoom, WhatsApp or whatever you are having yourself in order to virtually reach out to loved ones. And we can do it every day of the week. And when we get back to normal times, we can fly or sail or drive to meet family and friends.
To think of all the methods of communication nowadays, it is hard to imagine what it must have been like for parents of my grandmother’s generation; waving goodbye to their teenage children never to actually have any communication with them ever again, save for the airmail letter.
And coincidently, in the lockdown, my dad took time to do a search of the attic and he found a letter his mother wrote to her sister in Long Island, New York, on 5 September 1940, informing her of his birth four days earlier. Reading it, email is only in the ha’penny place.
In the new cashless society, it must be extremely hard for charities rattling buckets on the street. I feel awkward apologising I have no coins. They will have to think of another way of fundraising and we must play our part.