So many things were happening in the 70s. It was the rise of pop music, hippies, retro fashion, and many more. Having pen friends was one of it. I was in my early teens at that time. I had pen friends from all over the world. Being youngsters, it was like a competition as to who had more pen friends than the others. We would bring our pen friends letters to school to show off or nevertheless to brag to our friends. To avoid high expense, we used aerogram letters that cost us only 30 cents Malaysian currency per piece. Once in a while I would write proper letters on pieces of paper, include some photos or other little things in the envelope. The price of stamps varied based on the countries of destination. We saved our weekly pocket money for this.
To me the best part of having pen friends was writing the letters. We wrote in our own handwriting. Computers did not yet exist at that time. We had typewriters but no skills in speed typing. It would take us ages to finish typing a letter. It was an undeniable proof that those who wrote have beautiful hand writing than those who typed.
Writing letters gives various impact on the person who writes as well as the person who reads. Firstly, I found the letters I received had a unique and quaint odour. Some said that it was the smell of the body odour of the person writing the letter. I believed it was true because the smell differed from different senders. It took years for the smell to diminish. I also received letters either with a dash of talcum powder or a pinch of mixed spice in it. My luck!
The downside of writing letters was the correcting of mistakes in the spellings and sentences. Since we were using a pen erasing mistakes was out of the question unless we do not mind the horrible cross out here and there. We had to be very careful with what we were about to write. We spent hours to write a letter. It was not just a piece of paper but it sometimes exceeded to 7 or 8. I would write as much as I could. I also wanted my stamp money to be worth it. Writing letters taught us patience, precision and commitment.
In the 90s, my dear husband went on a motivational course for school counsellors. During the course, they were asked or in fact challenged to write a letter to their spouses. The content of the letter must be a make believe of something very touching or sad. Thinking of the sequence was so hard for them but they proceeded in doing it. They went through horrific moments. In front of their course-mates and facilitators, they were each holding the letters signed, sealed and ready to deliver. With tears running down their cheeks they handed the letters to the facilitators who were supposed to post them to the spouses. They were like waiting in the death row but at the end of the day, the letters were given back to them. They had to post the letter themselves.
After the course ended, my husband came home and gave me a tight loving hug and tears in his eyes. Sobbing, he told me about the letter but not the content. I was stunned. I knew nothing about it. Until today, he still refused to tell me the content of the letter.
He did not post the letter.
Author: Fatimah Aini, Malaysia