Letters from beyond

On the 18th January this year, I published a post about the sudden death of one of my oldest friends. Since then, his family, and all of us who miss him, have been to his funeral, read eulogies in the press, and continued to correspond about the hole that his passing has left in our lives.

Recently, the time came for his son and daughter to undertake the painful task of clearing the belongings from his flat in Surrey. This is never going to be a good thing, but often throws up memories that are as pleasant as some others are sad. One of the joys of my long relationship with Pete, was the fact that we always wrote to each other. We were not the sort to chat on the telephone, and during the long period that he lived and worked in Canada, we began a long series of letters, many sent during some very difficult times in my life.

This continued after he returned to England. Despite the fact he was back in the country, we had got into the habit of writing, and just carried on. Sometimes the letters were long, though occasionally just one page of updates, containing little of consequence. But they were important to me, and I hoped that they were to him also. Most were handwritten, but some were typed, others even printed off. Once computers became common, we progressed to e-mail, which was a real bonus, as Pete’s handwriting was never easy to read, and something of a skill to decipher.

Late last week, I received a hefty parcel in the post. Inside, I found a manila folder, with Pete’s distinctive writing on it. Inside that folder were most of the letters I had ever sent him, dating back to the late 1980s, and before. It is hard to describe how I felt when I started to look at them. The first thing that dawned on me was that I had not kept any that he sent me. I have never been a keeper of letters, despite corresponding with many friends over the years. I was touched that his son Jim had sent them to me. I have no doubt that Pete kept and filed similar correspondence from many of his friends, and hope that they might have received similar parcels.

I tried to read some of the letters. It is strange reading something that you wrote to send to someone else. Not something that you would normally ever do. Once those thoughts and words had been posted, they tended to be forgotten, unless they were referred to in the reply. I looked at the dates, the different addresses, saw more than thirty years of my life in writing and print. Then I closed the folder again. I am not sure that I am ready to read those thoughts once again. Not just yet, anyway.

Even in death, Pete proved what a friend he was, and left me a legacy that has no price.

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34 thoughts on “Letters from beyond

  1. This post hit me like a ton of bricks. I was never much of a letter writer but I did occasionally write a letter or two. It was always a wonderful activity but it seemed so hard to keep it up over the long haul. And then email came. In a way that made letter writing new again. I have developed some great friendships over email but there is something special about holding a letter in your hand that has been – or is in danger of being – lost.

    And the meaning of this particular pack of letters – a final message from beyond… Wonderful, mystical, sad and lovely. Thank you for sharing this.

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    1. Thanks Eric. I have always written letters, at least to those that reply in kind. I have a fountain pen, vellum paper, and good envelopes. Pete was someone who also wrote, albeit in barely-intelligible biro. But I still write to two other friends today, on a monthly basis, and we try to keep the ‘tradition’ alive.
      Best wishes, Pete.

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  2. Sorry for your loss. It must be weird to hear yourself from the gap of years… I used to keep all my letters back in Spain when I was younger, but when I moved to the UK I moved every few months and didn’t have that much time any longer. My grandmother on my mother’s side used to keep everything but she passed away a long time ago and had to move before that so we only have very few things. We do better in the pictures department. It’s strange. The more means we have to store things the fewer things we seem to store. Be well.

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    1. Thanks Olga. Reading the first few lines of the letters I sent brought back immediate memories of how I felt, and what I was doing at the time. I need to be in a certain frame of mind, to be able to tackle them as a whole.
      Very best wishes, Pete.

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  3. I hope you take the time one day to go back and read the letters.

    There is only a slight connection, but I had an experience 21 years ago that just now jumped back into my mind. A distinguished elderly lady, and head of the American Center in Paris at the time, was going to find a way to legalize my presence in France. At the time, I was tending to children in Neuilly-sur-Seine. Unfortunately, this lady was involved in a deadly (and gruesome) car accident near Vichy on the eve of her plan to legalize me. After I learned what happened, I checked my voicemail in Neuilly, and she’d left me a very enthusiastic and kind message along with details of what I needed for a trip to the Bordeaux region. It was like a voice from beyond the grave–though she had not yet been buried. In fact, I later attended the funeral at the American Cathedral (she was French, but her late husband, Lt. Colonel Spurgeon C.Boyd, after whom a square in Suresnes is named, was American), and also the burial in the French countryside. Had this wonderful and gracious lady survived the accident, I would most likely be living in France today.

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      1. In the past, I would have agreed with you. I’ve been assured, however, that France would be unrecognizable to me now, so I’m not so sure anymore. It is interesting, though, that Fate can alter the course of one’s life.

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  4. Such a truthful rendering of feeling doesn’t need another comment from me, other than giving thanks to you for the integrity and moral restraint with which you use this medium of blogging.

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          1. I know, in the last few years I lost two grandmas and one grandfather. It’s hard, but I get through it by remembering the good lives they led and the good times.

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  5. Pete, what a wonderful and heartbreaking post combined into a single post.. My dearly departed grandmother decades ago gave me the same gift. She had kept every letter, and birthday card I’d ever written to her, along with a handful of school items in a shoe box. She took it a step further knowing one day I would be reading the contents of the shoe box and wrote a note on each item for me to read. It took over 5 years before I could bare to read her notations on the letters and cards, but once I did they gave me the best gift of a lifetime. The passing of time has a way of letting us know when the right time is….

    Take care and happy blogging to ya, from Laura ~

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  6. I keep letters, I have three shoe boxes of them here. You were lucky to have such a close friend. And I do that too, sometimes reading letters I received when I was in college. It’s nice to know to know that the views we had about life back then is vastly different from how we see ourselves now, the beauty of growing older and getting wiser.

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  7. I received a bundle of letters that I had written to my ex and his mother in South Africa after our breakup and up until his death. For a long time they remained shoved in a shoe box until we moved a few years ago, when I got them out and put them in date order. I read a few and tried to match them to those I had received. The early ones were very painful as you can imagine. I thought that one day I might write a book using the correspondence. It still remains a thought, but one day, when the moment is right…

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    1. When you have copies of both letters, the material is definitely there for a great book, as evidenced by 84 Charing Cross Road. I hope that you manage to get around to it one day Jude.
      Regards as always, Pete. x

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