So Dad begun his letter dated 14 February 1991. It is written on tissue-thin, white pages without lines – Dad’s evenly spaced sentences guided by the template that came with each pad of Croxley’s airmail notepaper placed carefully beneath each transparent sheet. His opening line acknowledges the receipt of my letter written a week before and airmailed from Pretoria to Cape Town – the proof of our ongoing written conversation.
Of course, my parents and I took turns to make cross country calls weekly. But the calls never replaced the letters. A clinging, interfering, suffocating family circle? Not so, we all led strong, independent lives; exchanging letters was just a way of life to my parents. I can still see my mother writing letters at the mahogany writing desk in the corner of lounge, the blotting paper with its mysterious half-captured squiggles at the ready. Sunday nights she wrote in bed using an upturned tea tray as a desk: long weekly epistles in her small neat print to her sister, Eve, on the dusty drought-stricken farm outside Grahamstown, Joyce, her sister-in-law, in her neat suburban bungalow in Port Elizabeth, her never-to be-forgotten friends in East London, the great-aunts in England. She wrote thank-you notes to neighbours and letters of congratulation to nieces and nephews on their exam results or their selection to a provincial hockey team. She wrote letters to Mother Superior to explain my absence from school after yet another bout of tonsillitis. She wrote letters of condolence to the bereaved on special notepaper edged in black. “Jill’s had a new granddaughter or caught the flu or bumped her car or won a prize for her marmalade – I must write to her,” was Mom’s constant refrain.
Dad once retired, took to writing letters, a habit well learned during the war years. This particular letter has an encouraging word for each one of us. He worries over the conflict in Iraq and reminisces over his own bygone war. ‘There are no winners in a war”, he counsels. Mom’s new pills for Parkinson’s, he assures, are working wonders. His game of bowls is improving and - tell Ruth, he adds, he never forgets to feed the doves on the front lawn. He sends pats for the dogs and love to all.