Here is time stood still. Sorted, labelled, numbered and dated, bundled in an order determined by distance and purpose – letters between my mother, Jacqueline and my father, Patrick. They span just a little more than a decade – from 1955 until 1966. Yes, they chronicle a love that has endured until today – the beginnings of a relationship – with delight and discovery bumping up against struggle, adjustment and the tyranny of distance. There is the simple wonder of youthful new love – first love – only love – writ large here. There is the aspiration of two very young people – not yet 20 at the start – yet already workforce veterans. They are deeply personal documents in part – but also hysterically funny, often heavy with the toils of domesticity, the trials and tribulations of making ends meet, living apart, and eventually, the all-at-once joy and burden of a wedding and children and a first home. More than this, they provide a lively and precise social history of a time and place. The letters are detailed – tightly-woven copy book script, real ink and now-crumbling lined paper. They are error-free and beautifully expressive, the handwriting quite beautiful – saying a good deal I think for a formal education that ended at “scholarship” – about age 12. The pages stuffed into a single envelope are sometimes as many as twenty, the regularity as frequent as daily, and sometimes twice. The postmarks herald a backwards and forwards ink and paper journey across south east Queensland – Dalby, Redcliffe, Tin Can Bay, Allora, Canungra, Tweed Heads and Wacol. The pages reveal intricate detail about National Service, wedding planning, the CMF, sister-in-law banter, family structure, boarding houses, wages and budgeting, struggling, saving and striving, the saviour that was the housing commission, rail motors, postal delivery, early child care guilt, the telephone exchange and the Western Line. The later letters – briefer and more pressured – reveal the tribulations of early parenthood – the isolation for my mother as dad supplemented their finances with stints away at army camp. The birth of my brother, Bradley, in 1959, and me in 1962, are documented in these letters – they are funny, poignant and revealing!
The house our parents moved to in Dalby in 1958 remains our family home. The letters spent some time in a big yellow and black enamel bread bin in the bottom of the linen press, before Mum sorted them, tied them with ribbon and popped them in the old port. Now, they are in a box and have been handed to us – four siblings and nine grandchildren – “to do something with”. My mum wants some to be buried with her, and for them to be divided amongst the grandkids. For now, they exist as a full collection, and they really are quite beautiful. Twice, I have sat with Mum and read to her from them. She struggles now to remember the order of things in her current life, but she can embellish my readings with intricate detail and most vivid recollections of people and places. She recalls the tree on the Redcliffe foreshore where she and dad engraved their initials in a heart. The letters contain details of the yardage and cost of the material for her bridesmaids dresses, but only she can describe their colour and how that material looked and felt. Miss Bashford – the owner of that boarding house – was quite something – yet without these letters, we would never have known her as we seem to now. And who would have known that Nannie and Tottie would have a stand up “blew” with non-Waratahs supporters in the grandstand at the Dalby football field that day? Or that they’d win it?
In a world where letters are on the endangered list, where communication is rapid and often off-hand, these letters of life and love hark back to a time when there was time. The declarations of their love for each other written in these pages are profound, honest and unabashed. How wonderful that they remain completely in love in their 80’s and that the sentiments expressed so eloquently in writing over 60 years ago still echo through that house and through all our lives!