Monday 9 September 2019

Letters - yours, mine, other people's...

I was mortified recently finding out I had accidentally mixed up letters: one was sent to France but should have gone to Canada, and vice versa. This is a very rare mistake for me and in over 10 years of penpalling, have never mixed up letters to penpals before.

I do not know if the recipients read much of the wrong letters before forwarding them on. They knew of each other anyway, and have exchanged letters before, I believe. The contents of my two mixed up letters were not 'Top Secret' or "For Your Eyes Only" nor were they overly personal nor suggestive in nature. Some letters I do write to close penpals may contain more personal information, not just about me and my family, but questions / comments regarding theirs. I may occasionally talk about other penpals in letters: one recent case is that to a penpal in the UK with family & penpals in Hong Kong - I also have a penpal there so we have written about the political situation. I hope things will work out for the best over there.

I have not finished reading More Letters of Note, yet. I really should. I thoroughly enjoyed the first volume of letters compiled by Shaun Usher. It was interesting to spy on written conversations not initially meant for strangers' eyes; a glimpse into the lives/worlds of other people. Do we all like to eavesdrop to a certain extent?

I would have liked to have read the letters my mother's brother wrote to her, in a 40 year correspondence, but she had shredded most of them. I was hoping to find insight into some family history, although I am not all that interested in genealogy (in a time my mother's family did not approve of my father, and possibly some of her ancestors would turn in their graves about it).

So, what of my letters, the ones I have received? I keep them all. I do sometimes look back through them, but not often. Should I digitise them? Have OCR work its magic and make the letters searchable? Should I allow others to read them?

Occasional snippets do get shown to others - maybe on a particular topic of interest to my family or friends (e.g. I showed the picture of a boat a penpal had sent me, to a friend who was a sailor and merchant seaman), or maybe the handwriting. But, I do not show the bits I deem to be "For My Eyes Only" to anyone else.

But, what should happen to my letters when I die? At this time, I don't think I would want them to be destroyed. The letters are kept in their envelopes. If an envelope has a return address other than a PO Box, I don't think it would be fair to sell the envelopes as stamped covers. The stamps could be removed from the envelopes and sent on to charities raising money through kiloware, or to friends/family who are interested in stamp collecting.

But what of the letters themselves? What it matter if they were read after I died? Would it be up to my family what to do with them? Do I bequeath them in a will? Should I leave it up to my family to decide? Would the senders like them back?

As for letters I have sent, I am not sure I would want them returned to me. I relinquished any power over them when I fed them to the post box. They belong to the people I sent them to, and leave it to them to decide what to do with them.