In the late 1980’s the Scottish band, The Proclaimers had a big hit with their song “Letter from America.” I love this song, and listen to it regularly. Here are two of its most memorable lines:
“When you go will you send back a letter from America?
Take a look up the rail track from Miami to Canada..”
When the song was written e-mail, Skype and texting were merely dreams forming and developing in the minds of geniuses. Letters were still the primary means of communication between families separated by the Atlantic Ocean.
I remember when I first came to America in the late 1980’s, I phoned home once a week. My phone bills were astronomical, so talking for an hour or two was out of the question. Instead I wrote letters regularly.
I loved reaching into my mail box each evening. A wave of sheer joy came over me, when I found a checker-bordered aerogramme with my name lovingly imprinted on the cover.
Nowadays, trips to the mail box reveal no such treasures – just bills and junk mail. Sometimes I miss those days of old, when letters from Ireland were regularly delivered.
I often think of those who left Ireland over a century ago. They never knew the luxury of a weekly phone call, or daily in my case, now that we have an internet phone connection with unlimited calls to the Emerald Isle.
For our ancestors, connection to family left behind was limited to letters, sometimes taking weeks or months between deliveries. Even for those who left in the 1950’s, like six of my father’s brothers and sisters, telephone calls were unheard of. For starters my grandmother never owned a phone. In an emergency a kind neighbor or the priest might agree to let her use their phone.
No, truth be told, even until the 1970’s my granny only heard from her children in America through letters. I still remember the expression on her face when the postman arrived with a “letter from America.” She smiled all day long. I watched eagerly as her eyes devoured precious words. She stuffed the sheets into a pocket hidden in the folds of her skirt. I knew she examined them frequently throughout the day. Loving words eased the pain of her aching heart.
So whenever I listen to The Proclaimers, I think of my granny and her treasured letters from America. My children will probably never understand the role letters played in our lives. I must remember to tell them about their great-grandmother’s skirt pockets, stuffed with handwritten pages filled with loving words from her children far away.
Slán agus beannacht,
(Goodbye and blessings)
Irish American Mom