To call it a letter is rather a misnomer. It is,
rather, a whole packet of individual letters and
information. However, it has always been
called “The Family Letter.”
The children of Ernest George
Light and May Rosenberger Light have, for as
many years as anyone can remember, exchanged a round-robin type of letter. The idea was handed down from May’s family, when regular information was exchanged among her siblings. May and Ernest’s eight children have continued this, starting as the children began leaving home in the 1940s. The two generations’ letters overlapped for several years, each making its appointed rounds.
The Letter has a long-established route. It arrives at my mother’s home in Sherwood Park, Alberta from a sister in Ponoka. She reads all the entries, takes out what she had put in the previous round, adds her current news, and mails the package on to the next on the list — a sister in Prince Albert, who follows the same routine. It is then forwarded to another sister in Regina. The package then goes to Nova Scotia, Oregon state, Camrose and back to Ponoka. And so it has gone, more or less, for 60-some years.
There has always been a certain amount of pride in just how short a time each person has The Letter in his/ her possession; at least it is with my mother. Dates of individual contributions are sometimes compared to see when each person got The Letter and when it was sent on.
All the time we were growing up, the arrival of The Family Letter promised news of weddings, babies, school, holidays and everyday activities. Some of the entries were told with the aid of newspaper clippings, and a wide range of photos.
A diary saved from the early days helped outline some of the topics covered in a typical round of The Letter. Toni home permanents from the early 1950s were routinely given by sisters or friends, gasoline sold for 50 cents a gallon, typical farm work might include making ropes by twisting together four strands of binder twine.
Small children were scolded for playing beneath the stretched fabric at the weekly quilting bee. Flour sacks were bleached over and over and then made into clothing; other clothes were taken apart and refashioned. Gallons of solvent, purchased from bulk fuel stations, were used to dryclean clothes, which were then hung outside until the fumes evaporated. Runs in nylon stockings were repaired with a tiny glass crochet-type hook.
The first case of polio in Camrose, Alberta was reported by the nurse in the family in 1948. A dinner at a Chinese restaurant cost $1.05, and three dental fillings were $7.50.
Making the news in 1951 was the first dial telephone in Camrose. King George’s death was recorded in one round of The Letter in 1952.
The daily activities of the first private nursing home in Meadow Lake were topics of other letters. The home was run by Ernest and May in the 1950s.
Family reunions have been planned over the years by way of The Family Letter. It was just too expensive to use the telephone.
As the years go by, the participants of The Letter change. First there was the death of Ernest and May. A daughter, and two sons followed, with their spouses taking over. Now, one cousin of the next generation has stepped in for her deceased dad and disabled mom.
When they first came on the market, a reel-to-reel taped version was initiated by an uncle, but the original handwritten one has endured.
An old school friend I ran into a few years back asked about my family, and also asked about whether The Family Letter was still going. It wasn’t until then that I realized the letter was unusual.
There are today about 100 descendants of Ernest and May Light. Some of us have attempted several times to get a modern, e-mail version of The Family Letter going among the 30-odd cousins, but it hasn’t caught on. It has prompted me, however, to keep in better contact with my own brothers and sisters.
Sometimes, when I’m lucky, The Family Letter is at my mother’s when I visit, and I get in on the latest family events.
Why not start a Family Letter in your family?
Audrey Harsh writes from Hudson Bay, Saskatchewan