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!