Tuesday, 24 April 2012

The Power of Letters

In this season of resurrection, I had a rather powerful reminder of the way in which parts of life that we think have moved beyond us return in new and transfomred ways. We went to see my aunt, after Easter, and she produced 70 dog-eared letters in an old brown envelope. They were written on fragile sheaves of airmail paper (now smellling musty) by my parents when they were working in Ghana nearly 60 years ago. At that time my aunt was back in the UK doing her children's nurse training at Manchester Children's Hospital and the correspondence, which is mostly between the two sisters (with occasional interpolations from my father), is fascinating. Clearly there was a great affection between them and daily life unfolds over nearly four years in Tacoradi, Koforidua, Accra, Manchester and Colwyn Bay! Those were the days when Ghana and Britain were, for most people, a sea voyage apart and there was no coming home for a couple of weeks holiday or flying out to visit friends and relatives. Mum and Dad were making a new and completely different life, getting to know local people and customs, often trekking into the forests (my father was a forester) and living in tents for days. It's actually quite hard for me to imaging my home-comforts-loving mother in a tent wearing mosquito boots! Meanwhile Mum's sister was nursing at the 'fever hospital' in Manchester, looking after patients with infectious diseases for which there were often no cures - a reminder that nursing was a more risky profession in those days when, to an extent, you risked your own health.

I sat on a balcony overlooking the sea in Devon for three days absolutely transfixed by these letters, devouring every one of them for details of what Mum and Dad did, how they felt, who they met (it was a turbulent political period in Ghana). It was like meeting my parents, both of whom are now dead, all over again. They spoke with the same voices in their mid twenties that I recognised and knew so well from their later years. The contents of the letters brought back many of the stories I  loved to hear as a child about life in West Africa but with more detail and more vivid  descriptions. It also enabled me to identify some of the places and goings-on in Dad's many photos.

I found myself thinking that this experience was a metaphor for resurrection - to find past experiences brought into the present, transformed and able to give new life and new perspective on people and events and especially the parents whose voices I had never expected to be hearing again.

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