2017-07-19 / Loose Ends

Dispatch Days

The half-forgotten files
Susan Nienow

I had mixed feelings the other day when I ran across copies of some letters I had written between 1988 and 1991, when we moved to Belgium and back. We had our first computer – no email, just word processing printed on that track paper with the holes down each side. I could write letters faster and a little bit at a time. The memory was great!

Besides being ridiculously long, the letters were enlightening. I was in my early 40s and the kids were in elementary and middle school. Reading them, I was shocked that I couldn’t remember everyone mentioned. Who was Jeannie? I have spent more than a few minutes trying to envision a face, a context, and there is nothing. Fortunately there was only one letter to her. Maybe she didn’t write back.

There are dates on the letters but no years. Remind me to put that on future letters I expect to save. When I wrote those I never thought about saving them. Computers were newfangled, and I had no concept of the possibilities.

Another surprise was that I don’t remember some of the things we did then. Like a club my daughter was in, and paying $1,750 for car insurance for one year on one car. I do remember that things were generally expensive overseas, but no specifics.

Oh, I do recall coveting a sweater in a shop window that was the equivalent of $600. That’s all I did, was covet. As we were there longer, I learned where I could afford to shop – mostly back here when we came to visit every summer. Here it is nearly 30 years later and I still wouldn’t pay that for a sweater. I would learn to knit first!

The mail was tricky. I sent a graduation present to a friend’s son who immediately moved to Florida after graduation from the International School, and it arrived back at my house in Belgium badly damaged three months later. Who knows where it went! The mailman rode a bicycle to deliver the mail. If I wanted to mail a letter, I had to go to the post office and stand in line for it to be weighed.

I wrote to everyone that the weather was different. It was 40 to 60 degrees all year round and generally cloudy and windy with lots of drizzle.

I wrote about my son’s soccer game in Holland, where the wind was so fierce it turned our umbrellas inside out. There is nothing to stop the wind coming in off the North Sea. We finally gave up and watched from our cars.

I’m glad the letters didn’t include pictures. Some things I remember like they happened last week and others are faded memories at best. It was nearly 30 years ago, but I prefer to think I look the same.

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