Sunday evening was always letter writing time for my mother.
Every week, she’d sit down with a fountain pen and a pad, notepaper or those flimsy blue aerogrammes and write to family and friends around New Zealand and overseas.
Those were the days long before email and texts and when toll calls were so expensive they were used only for matters of great importance or urgency.
When I went to university I was added to the list of recipients and a beautifully written – in terms of script and wording – letter would arrive from home every Monday.
I was usually reasonably good about replying but at one stage got a bit slack.
After a couple of weeks I received a poem from Mum which began, What ails?/Art thou pale? It continued with a list of possible explanations for my failure to write and concluded Feeling tired? You’re fired!
I was at St Margaret’s, a residential college in Dunedin at the time, and when they heard that there was a vacancy for the position of daughter in my family home, several of my fellow residents penned applications.
Mum responded, in Greek, which she translated (somewhat loosely I suspect), as better the devil you know . . . and I was reinstated.
Lesson learned, I ensured responses to letters from home were more timely.
It wasn’t hard as a student. When lectures dragged I’d pen an epistle in between note-taking. As a reporter, I had plenty of opportunity too, writing letters while covering meetings where discussion was lengthy but not newsworthy.
Post cards and letters were the only affordable way to keep in touch with family and friends when I was doing my OE and when I first married I was pretty good at keeping in touch through the post.
As life got busier, my letter writing slackened but when we got the news of our first son’s imminent death, I phoned my parents and one friend and wrote to the rest which, in hindsight, was therapeutic.
When Tom died we were overwhelmed by the number of cards and notes we received and I responded to each and every one.
Seven years later, when our second son died, I was writing a column for the ODT and there was even more mail, a lot of it from people I’d never met, but who knew my family and me through those columns.
We’ve kept them all, and although it’s a long time since I’ve looked at them, they remain as a tangible reminder of the kindness we received, in a way more ephemeral electronic communications can’t match.
A couple of years later we connected to the internet. My letter writing which was reducing anyway declined steeply as electronic correspondence increased and the price of toll calls decreased since then.
I did keep up Christmas cards until recently but have all but given up on those too and note that the majority of those we receive are from business contacts rather than family and friends.
The box of 100 stamps which sits in my desk drawer has remained almost untouched since I bought it last year.
In the last six months I’ve posted a cheque as a donation to buy meat for the church fair, a voucher for dinner for an auction for the same cause and two thank you letters. Any other correspondence, bill payments or invoicing has been done electronically.
I do receive more mail than I send but most of it is magazines, books bought through the internet, bank statements and junk. Only rarely is there a personal card or letter.
Most people don’t do that sort of mail any more and that’s why New Zealand Post is closing several mail centres.
Otago Chamber of Commerce chief executive John Christie said the news of the mail centre closure and loss of jobs was not welcome.
”This is a reaction to the shift in their business model. They have to do what they have to do to run their business profitably. We only have to look at our own mail habits to understand.”
The closures are tough for those losing their jobs but fewer items in the mail requires fewer people to sort and deliver them.
Post isn’t dead but it’s no longer the fastest, cheapest or best way for most of us to communicate and NZ Post has no choice but to cut back to reflect the decreasing demand for its services.