Photo © Karren Visser. Rachel shared her vivid memories of receiving letters from her Mum and Dad when she was at weekly boarding school. The project participants were fascinated to know more about the tactile collage letters of some of Rachel’s favourite things, her mother cut out of bits of fabric, and Rachel has kept for nearly 50 years.
Listen to Rachel’s story
My name’s Rachel Lee. I’m registered blind and I live in the Black Country now, although I haven’t always lived here. [In a Wiltshire accent] I lived in Wiltshire, so I haven’t got the accent that I used to have. Not now. [Returns to her usual accent]
I’ve lived in the Black Country for oh, gosh, about 30 years now. I work in the young adults’ transitions team as a lead officer, and I work with patients with learning disabilities and autism who are in hospital and trying to get them discharged as quickly as possible. So, I think I’ve got quite an interesting job and a good life in the Black Country. I’ve been married for 13 years to my husband, and we have 3 cats.
The objects I’ve chosen are letters from my Mum and Dad written to me when I was at boarding school. I was at two boarding schools, but the first one was Linden Lodge. And I was there from five years old up until eleven. I used to wait, very hopefully, with anticipation every weekday morning – I came home at weekends, so I was a weekly border. So, when it came to about Tuesday or Wednesday, I would be waiting very impatiently for the post to come in our classroom to see if I’d got a letter from my Mum and Dad. This is because they were really special letters for me. My parents didn’t know Braille and obviously I was only just learning Braille. So, in order to send me something that would mean something to me, my Mum wrote these particular letters. They were on a piece of paper. They were collages of different things, usually animals, birds, trees. I think some had sun and moons on them, but all like collages in fabrics that I would be able to feel and that would mean something to me.
So, in the two pictures that you have, there is one with lots of different animals on cats, dogs, foxes. I think there’s a squirrel there and the other picture was of a great big cat done in velvet, because that was my favourite material. She’s just sitting, I think there’s some trees around that that were made of felt. The ground or grass my Mum put carpet on there. So, these were really lovely things that I could feel that meant that, you know, my Mum and Dad were thinking of me although I was at school. So, it was very, very special to me to have these letters and I really looked forward to reading them, to feeling them. There was a little note inside all of them that said, whatever it said, love from Mum and Dad and things like that. But I really enjoyed these letters. I think I’ve kept around eight of them. When I look back on these letters, it’s interesting because I didn’t even know where I was going to find them. I had an idea where they were, but I haven’t seen them for a very long time. I thought I knew where they were, but my husband found them in an old toy box that I’d kept with lots of other objects in.
It was really nice looking back on them and thinking just how ahead of her time my Mum was in her thinking, I guess because she put all that kind of love and attention into those letters, which was a wonderful thing to do for communication to me. But I do wonder, when we came to do the photography, my Mum was there, and I was looking at them with her. I do, looking back, wonder if actually they did start my collection of things. Because it has been pointed out to me that I do have a lot of different ornaments and different, well stuff, in my home. Lots of China flowers, lots of cat ornaments, lots of elephant ornaments, some wooden bears that I collect, and I’ve always collected different types of tactile ornaments. Mostly animals and flowers. And I do wonder now, looking back whether that is because of those letters, and whether that was something that I subconsciously… first things I collected and it’s down to that.
It was a lovely experience to be able to share them with my Mum again. I’ll always keep them because I mean, my Mum is 90 now, so we’ve had a lot of years together and it’s a lovely memory to still be able to have. I mean these are something that’s that are over 50 years old or just under 50 years old.
It’s a lovely memory, one that I shall keep treasuring.
© Unseen Memories, produced by Karren Visser and Sandwell Visually Impaired, 2023.