Granny's Last Letter

Thursday 5 December 2013

In January 2001, I received a letter. It was from my grandmother, and it was the last letter she ever sent me. She died a few weeks later, in February. I remember taking news of her death on a cold, clear Saturday morning in that month. In her letter, she expressed delight that I was to become a father, to my oldest son, born late the following summer. When I received the letter, I was living in Sweden, and my grandmother was living in Scotland, where with the exception of a brief spell in an American prison after she had attempted to enter the United States illegally, she had lived out her days. Her letter to me was written on cheap, poor quality paper. She could, I’m sure, have written on better paper, but its indigence simply reflected the frugality that life had frequently demanded of her. Reading granny’s letter, it was obvious that she was dying. It still contained her optimism and stoicism – qualities necessary for a proud woman raising a large family in a poor part of Glasgow in the years around WWII. But, the fluency of her writing – she was a great writer of letters – was gone, and granny’s scratched handwriting, so out of character, informed me of her approaching death. The letter remains a treasured possession  

In the discourse of Language and Literature, I am discussing the contexts of production and reception that inform granny’s letter – even if this academic inflection somehow diminishes it. I’m glad my grandmother lived in a time when people wrote letters. Would I cherish the email equivalent? I don’t know if letter writing is a ‘dying art’. I hope not. Video didn’t quite kill the radio star, and so I’m optimistic, as my granny was.

A wonderful book titled Letters of Note, compiled by Shaun Usher, inspires this week’s lesson idea. All the letters – 125 of them – are accompanied by a brief contextual note. Context is not all, but knowing it does enhance the reading pleasure.


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