This week I received a letter written on a blue aerogram! I hadn’t seen one of those in years and it pleased me immensely to hold it, to slice open the side and the two ends, to read it, to flip-up the bottom and read the back side.
So many memories came rushing back in that moment. So many letters in so many mailboxes.
The aerogram, although no longer sold in US Post Offices, has a rich history. It was first introduced in Iraq in 1933 by Major Grumbley of the Royal Engineers. That original aerogram,weighing less than 2/10 of an ounce, was preprinted with the likeness of Faisal I of Iraq on thin grey paper. The aerogram didn’t gain popularity until the middle of the Second World War, however, when airmail service started up between Britain and the Middle East. It was a private and inexpensive way to send letters back and forth. The US didn’t issue an aerogram until April 1947. Twenty-five different designs, with increasing postage costs, were issued until they stopped printing them in 2006. David Failor, Postal Service executive director of stamp services at that time stated by way of explanation, “Demand for these has been next to nothing for the past five years.” People send emails to their globally scattered friends, I suppose. Or perhaps they skype them.
Long gone are the days when the nearly weightless blue aerogram was used to convey love and affection, news of births and deaths and family.
For the me the aerogram has significant sentimental value. I remember receiving letters from home when I first went to boarding school at age nine. One of the “aunties” would appear at tea time to distribute the mail. She’d call out the names of the fortunate few. I distinctly remember the swell of hope that my name would be called. I remember the pains of sadness when it wasn’t. More often than not my name was called though. My mom sweetly wrote us most every day. Often she used a small domestic Pakistani aerogram to convey little pieces of news from home. She’d tell of her and dad’s deep love for us. She’d tell stories of life on the Thal Desert, her life in a courtyard surrounded by tall walls.
Later on in junior and senior high school our mail from home was put in a mailbox down in the “Big School”. There was a box for each grade and so now we could see who got mail and who didn’t. Casually looking through the few letters in hopes that one of them had your name on it conjured up the same little girl feelings but now there was the mildly applied pressure to pretend you didn’t really care much. Friends that had moved on from boarding school wrote too. Amy Jo, my loyal best friend from fourth grade on wrote regularly and often after their family moved back to the US and then relocated to the UK. She routinely wrote on a blue aerogram form. I still have most of the letters she wrote. They are tied together with ribbon in a box in our basement.
When I left the safe space of boarding school for the broader world of college and Canada I found myself often in the post office. My world might have profoundly changed, my self deeply shaken but I knew the post office and her mistress. Everyday I’d check for mail. Sometimes two or three times a day. Hoping. Longing. Needing some reassurance that the world I had left wasn’t imaginary, needing to know I wasn’t completely going insane, needing to know I was missed. Those letters kept me tethered. Mom and Dad wrote, there were a few teachers who wrote (Ann and Stephen, Marie, Phil and Ruth), there were friends that wrote, classmates, my dorm mother Deb.
Years later, when Lowell I courted through the precarious marriage of the Canadian and the Indian postal systems, the aerograms revealed the man I came to love and to cherish. Each aerogram he wrote under the ceiling fans of a lonely India settled into my heart. I read and reread them. I studied his pensmanship. I tried to read between what he had written and what he might have meant. I looked for humour and affection. Those aerograms might have survived international air travel but they quickly became worn from overuse! We still have all those letters, our courtship by correspondence, safely ensconced in plastic page protectors and stored in a three-inch binder at the back of our closet.
Our years in India saw the great change of communication march before us like a momentous Republic Day parade.
Early on we relied on those blue letters for comfort and the assurance of prayers. After the aerogram marched past, the faxes came and went. No sooner had they moved on then we watched, to our great astonishment, the entrance of email, slowly at first, but quickly gaining momentum. Letters and packages still came. Blue aerograms still came, in the wrong spot in the parade line, but always an absolute delight to receive! Cell phones and international texting joined the procession. The internet,with speed and information and Facebook, still marches on but we left India before that line swept past us.
The aerogram yet speaks to me of nostalgia and a collection of sweet serendipitous memories. This letter from my friend, who maybe only lives three miles away, contains more than just the bits and pieces of news she wrote. Her letter speaks to me of the past.
With her one letter, a whole rush of forgotten letters have arrived. My mailbox is full! Thank you Tammy!
15 thoughts on “The Aerogramme/Aerogram”
Your article bought back much of my memory. I am from Hongkong and was studying in England during the mid 90s. I remembered there are many moments of writing and receiving aerogrammes to and from mum and dad. There was email but not so popular as today.
I heard that UK has stopped aerogramme in 2012. But aerogramme is still available here in Hongkong, although not too many people using it. It’s really cheap to buy one here, only about 30 US cents each. If you want, I can send you one.
I’m too young to have used aerograms myself, but my mother communicated with her parents and her in-laws on aerograms. Both her mother and her mother-in-law kept every single aerogram she ever sent them. Now, she is in the process of transcribing and digitizing all those words she wrote so many years ago. They are providing a very detailed chronology of their years in Kenya, as well as bringing back many memories that would otherwise have been forgotten!
Oh Marilyn, you brought the memories flooding back! Our expat life often meant time apart, and seeing one of those lovely blue envelopes in the mail always set my heart aflutter! James would write tiny script so he could cram as many words as possible on those thin blue pages – we lovingly called it his “spy school writing.” Thanks for another great post. All the best, Terri
Brings back memories for me too :)
I love aerogrammes too! My sister found an old one a couple of months ago and wrote on it to our girls. It was incredible how sentimental it made me feel. And oh how I remember those boarding emotions when the post came!
Sophie…it was at tea time wasn’t it? I started to think maybe it was in the evening at “feastings” time…But I have distinct memories of crying into my plastic tea mug outside on the swing reading a letter from home…
After living in Pakistan for a period of 12 years I discovered that my father had kept every blue aerogram that I had ever written! I was very touched. Now I am not sure what to do with them. Someday I will organize them and re-read them and store them away for someone else to find them after I am gone. I have no children so not sure who will be interested, but I know that I personally cannot throw them away. They are a precious reminder of a time of my life which was the hardest and the best.
I wonder if all the world’s heartaches…the “hardest and the best” as you said, is captured on blue aerograms? I suspect it used to be… Your Father captured your tears, I’m glad your father kept your letters!
Oh, yes I remember the aerograms too. I went to university in Holland and my parents were still in Africa. Aerograms were cheaper than letters and those were the days before the internet. Hearing the postman come by was always an exciting moment, would there be mail from Africa? These days the mail is so much less exciting. I have written and received many aerograms but that seems ages ago…..
This made me smile. Several years ago after my grandmother died, I was going sorting through her things for the sale, and found, tucked in the piano bench along with her favorite hymnals, the aerogrammes I’d sent her from Papua New Guinea as a child. I sat on the floor next to the piano and read the ramblings and concerns and the joys of a little girl away at boarding school, trying to explain the world as I knew it in the jungle to someone on the farm in Ohio. Sprinkled throughout those letters are hints of homesickness coupled with fears of returning ‘home’: such tensions for a little girl to hold!
In a filing cabinet, I found a bundle of the aerogrammes my mother had sent her mom. Many of them detail the same events or the same time period, but told instead from the perspective of a very young woman, trying her best to make good decisions for her children, and trying her best to serve the Lord in a very patriarchal, patronizing mission station. Her grief on so many levels was evident, even among the more heroic claims of faith.
The juxtaposition of the two sets of letters was very healing for me. And grandma, bless her, managed to hold both close to her heart without betraying confidences. Those thin pages wielded a mighty balm!
Oh I so love this…thanks for sharing your memories with us. I wonder if my Grandma kept those letters from my mother and the other ones from me…!? I wish I could read my mom’s processing of those years with her own mother.
Marilyn, like you I remember sending and receiving such letters especially from my penfriends in South Africa. Thanks for sharing the history of aerograms. Petra