Before morning pages or 750words.com was a thing, where you write with a stream of consciousness, my Nanna Flo and I wrote our thoughts, feelings, dreams and happenings in letters to each other. Handwritten on paper, sent via snail mail, over a 30-year period. This was an irregular correspondence that crossed the age divide. It was much more than keeping abreast of what was happening in each of our lives, it was our way to stay connected when distance was an obstacle.
Wherever I travelled or lived, I would write her. Her letters to me were often a speedy response with cursive, so cursive that I would need a translator. My parents also struggled with the illegibility of her old school handwriting, she wrote quickly, as if on a mission. She had things to tell me that couldn’t wait another day. Her rapid response retarded my letter writing ability, basically, I couldn’t keep up.
Months would pass and I would realise the absence of handwritten mail personally addressed, a sure sign of a letter from my Nan. I was compelled to again start the ballpoint rolling, write something, anything, everything. I sat and started, the delivery was poetically familiar and always cathartic. Updates of work, boyfriends, parties and tales of sharehouses made her day and enabled her to tap into her own daily thought biography, which she shared.
It was an irregular pen affair throughout my 20’s and 30’s. The letters were medicinal for us both, before and after her death. After all, I like to read and write, and she appreciated an eye to a youthful version of herself and a bridge to the younger generation. She didn’t feel so left out or naive to a changing world. She told me my letters ‘amused’ her. I amused myself writing them and she injected a spirit of herself in her response.
She gave advice through her daily habits. In person, she’d look at the clock, give Pa a wink and share a moment of embrace, she called it ‘7 seconds of love’ abbreviated to ‘7 seconds’. She wrote about it in one of her letters. She was so happy I had found a boy I could call a friend and a lover and wrote, “I still have my 7 seconds each day, it keeps me in good spirits and amuses Ken (my Pa).” She taught us how to love and I never doubted, for all his grumbles, that Pa’s physical and emotional needs were met from Nanna in their ‘daily 7 seconds’.
Nanna Flo’s letters were full of good memories that took her back to her spritely youth. Trips with her kids overseas and outings locally, she was at her best when she was out and walking. Ageing affected her mobility but it never stopped her efforts to encourage social excursions. Eventually, she moved to Melbourne alone which gave us all a new opportunity to envelop her with regular visits. Living in a self-sufficient, aged care facility, she found true independence for the first time since her marriage began. The rooms were co-joined and she used to dance from room to room to show me close everything was, life was made easy. The 4 o’clock club was a golden girls group that brought their own liquor to a communal space on her floor to drink and talk about the day as it passed.
Her piano lived in her lounge room and was her lifeline. She could twinkle out any tune from the hit parade from memory. She played the piano right through to her last years, it was immediate joy, such a gift to us and everyone that heard her play, but more so herself. It gave her fulfilment. As her memory glitched towards her end she could still play eloquently, it was just the same song, over and over, no-one cared. I have all her old songbooks, they sit right near her letters. I remember her sharp sense of wit and her pinch-worthy cheeks rounded from smiling and laughing so much her whole life.
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