Mary has inherited the gift of several folders of letters written by her parents, and sometimes her siblings and herself from 1948 – 1980, to family in the Netherlands. She is working on bringing these family stories alive for her family, and to honour her parents who made the challenging and rewarding journey of living in their new country New Zealand.
My mother made this request regularly, ‘Please write a letter to your grandparents.’ This time it was to acknowledge my grandmother’s seventieth birthday. We were given one transparent sheet of crinkly airmail writing paper and encouraged to write a draft.
Today, 48 years later, I am reading my birthday letter and those of my siblings Theo (15) Victor (14) and Leo (13) Theresa (11) written to our grandmother in November 1969. Memories tumble and I find myself smiling. I am lost in the way back then. My sister wrote about her calf ‘Black Prince’ winning several ribbons for leading and grooming at the local agricultural show. Leo writes an overview with precision about how many calves there were, the weather on the day and details of a family outing to the ‘buried village’ at Lake Tarawera. Victor probably didn’t want to write just as he didn’t particularly want to go to school, so he proffered a few lines only about the subjects he was taking in school. Theo, my sensitive, clever brother Theo, addresses his grandmother in Dutch and continues in English about the Americans landing on the moon which he described as ‘science fiction now coming true.’ I write about my hopes of what I want to study after high school – physiotherapy, biology or psychology. I’m hoping to earn money during the holidays picking strawberries.
These letters open the floodgates of memory, of the strong connection that existed between us as children. We had our differences too. What has happened since then? We’ve drifted like driftwood.
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