By Stella Nassuna and Joyce Nyakato
Tomorrow is Valentine’s Day; a time to celebrate and glorify love. However, despite all those repetitive rituals of flowers, chocolates and dinner dates that will characterise Valentine’s Day, there will be a need to add a personal touch to the day for your loved one.
That should take us back to the day when love depended a lot more on creativity and sincerity. So, this here is an ode to the innocent and sweet love letters from the days when loving someone did not seem to cost much!
Legendary basketballer Michael Jordan has always been known as the tough guy in basket-ball. Not anymore though, thanks to a love letter that made rounds in the American media, which he wrote in 1980 to a “Dearest Laquette”. That was even before Jordan was big-time.
The letter which was revealed in 2011 was clumsily written, yet with a sincere expression of his love for the girl. Not only did it have lots of grammatical errors; it also revealed Michael Jordan as less of the stud he is today. Yet, with all the “weak vibe” and the grammatical errors, the girl kept that letter for 18 years!
Even the ardent social network converts will agree. Don’t you miss the time of love letters, mostly at school? The face of love was so tangible and inseparable from pen and paper. The poor chap whose heart was bleeding in love, often took his time and chose his words carefully on what was always attractive on paper.
Remember writing pads? Yes, the lovesick person poured out his or her sweet-nothings on the cutest of them ever made. The words were at times grandiose, bombastic and misplaced yet somehow, the lovelorn were still able to squeeze them into their letters.
Among the most ludicrous, yet acceptable phrases, were ‘atmospheric cosmogony’, God knows what that even means! Most letters were penned, not typed and the writer would always mention “as I pen this letter…” It would also be uncool not to use the word ‘contemplating’ just as failure to sound poetic labeled you not cool. All these things made the impressionable young girls go crazy over a dude.
The receiver was moved, so moved that he or she, in most cases, savoured the moment for quite some time. If they knew who it was from, they would postpone opening it until later when they were more relaxed.
That letter would, in the end, become a reference book of sorts, for one kept going back to it over and over, sometimes for years. That was either to refresh memories of the girl or guy one broke up with, or reminding oneself of how it all started to the present day. How sweet!
High school ‘sosh’ between students from single sex schools were quickly followed up by sheepish and smooth bits of romantic correspondence. If you had your love interest in the same school you studied, hearing the rustle of a paper under your pillow as you lay your head down to sleep was pleasant. There was even a brief moment of stardom for the receiver if your name was read out at assembly among those who had received letters.
Poor grammar and dedications
A letter written in poor grammar was a source of laughter. A girl and her friends would hurdle around a boy’s letter and have a good laugh. So, you had to be careful not to embarrass yourself, since the letter had a bigger audience.
Little wonder, students who were wordsmiths, often referred to as moving dictionaries, minted a lot of money, ghost-writing these letters. In their absence, the dictionary, songs of Solomon or Mills and Boons novels were often pulled out to inspire the writer with some lame pick-up lines.
The handwriting also mattered a lot. Cut-out shapes of hearts and stars from ordinary white paper with a rosy scent of natural flowers or a toilet freshener topped it. Some even went as far as colouring the paper or writing pad in different shades, as they desired. Secret codes like “Bombay”, which was translated as “Both My Two Breasts Are Yours”, added the romantic appeal to these letters
A common occurrence in girls’ dormitories was that of girls screaming in delight upon listening to a particular love song simply because their boyfriends had once dedicated the songs in a letter. Yet that shows just how important it was to dedicate a popular love song to the object of your love. Back then, a dedication from at least a boy band like Boys II Men or New Edition would do you wonders.
Though words and feelings continue to be the way of expression between two souls today, there is less time today.
Dating in the 21st Century is faster and much easier. People do not have time. Why hustle with writing down your feelings when you can let someone know you are interested in then with the simple click of a button? Love messages have become shorter and very spontaneous in delivery, killing the fun that came with the anticipation.
Today, brisk and semi-detached emails alongside SMS on mobile phones have replaced that. You just cannot capture enough soul and passion in a text message.
The idea of writing such letters, in certain circles, is considered old-school and misplaced. They say trends and fads go and come back. Technology aside, is it just possible that one day we will see the beauty that filled those letter-writing days and, perhaps, revert to them?
From their love letter days
Miss Uganda’s Brenda Nanyonjo says the love letters that interested her most were those that she kept receiving from a secret admirer while at university. “This guy kept sending me letters confessing his undying attraction to me. He would send me one during the week and another on the weekend. I started waiting on the letters and wondering who it was. He actually never revealed himself to me. I guess he feared that I would reject him.”
Actor and musician Mariam Ndagire was amused when asked about love letters. “In Trinity College Nabbingo, they used to read letters sent to the students. So you would be in trouble if you received a love letter,” she says. It is hard to believe that Ndagire never received a single love letter when she was in high school. However, she reveals that someone, who she is still friends with todate, wrote her a love poem. “Someone wrote me a love poem, which I have kept todate.” She says the most memorable line from that poem was “Love is like lightning, it strikes once in a lifetime.”
Pastor Martin Ssempa, who still has his old love letters sent by his wife years back, kept in an album, says he often re-reads them. “Reading them after these years makes the heart grow fonder,” Ssempa says. He also cannot forget the 52 love letters his wife sent him in a space of one year, during the time she had returned to America. “She kept the love going, she always wrote to me and phoned me often,” he adds.
For MP Medard Lubega Ssegona, the fear of rejection and public ridicule kept him from writing love letters. “I used to approach the girl I wanted physically, not through letters. Maybe if I had tried the writing business, I would have enjoyed the experience.”
For guys who braved the rejection like TV presenter Drake Ssekeba, it was a long wait. He always waited for months before getting a reply from his girlfriend, now wife. “I remember after we dated for a year, I wrote to her when she was in a nursing school and asked her if she would marry me. She took her sweet time to reply as usual. Later, she replied and asked me to wait for three years when she had completed her studies, which I gladly did.”
For Dr. Maggie Kigozi, her most clear memory of the love letter is her first one, which kept sending her into moments of laughter. “My first love letter came through the mailbox. My mother picked it along with other mails, read it and she was so mad at me. She reported me to my father, who instead asked her if the letter was addressed to her (my mum). When she replied ‘no’, he asked her: “Why did you read it then?”
The memory of the love letter seemed to put a smile on Halima Namakula’s face. “I received a number of love letters, but one I cannot forget is the love poem my late husband sent me when he could not join me for Valentine’s Day in the UK. The words that caught my attention were “when my heart skips, it will be a way of I knowing that I was thinking of you. Another line was “when I get a breath of wind blowing my way, I will know that you were with me despite the distance”. When I read this, I felt what he felt because every word in the poem came from his heart. The words he used were the usual words he used in his everyday conversations with me.”