Every couple of months my uncle would send me some stamps. They would arrive through the letterbox in small brown envelopes.
I don’t know why he did this, I had never met him, but someone must have told him that I had started to collect stamps. My uncle was in the merchant navy, travelling to different parts of the world, and yet when the envelope appeared it would be filled only with British stamps, always the same kind. Whenever the envelope arrived I would open it and out would fall ten or twenty British stamps.
“Why are they always British? Why doesn’t he send me stamps from all these places he goes to? There’s no point in having a stamp collection if every stamp is exactly the same. He should just stop sending them,” I thought to myself.
Not wanting to seem ungrateful I didn’t tell anyone or complain about my growing pile of stamps.
These deliveries from abroad went on for about two years.
Over the course of the two years I naturally became bored with stamp collecting and moved onto exploring nearby and sometimes not so nearby towns on my new bicycle.
And still the stamps came.
One day, another envelope from my uncle appeared. I ripped it open and of course another pile of British stamps fell out. I didn’t know it at the time but this was to be the last envelope from my uncle. That day, I sat against the door and began turning the envelope over and over in my hand, imaging all of the faraway countries he must have visited and all of those envelopes he had sent me full of stamps taken from letters that had been written to him from many other people, or perhaps just one person.
Yet he never wrote to me when he sent the stamps, never placed as much as a note inside the envelope.
All he did was send me the stamps.
All he did, this uncle I had never met, was to take the time to collect these stamps and send them to me every couple of months, without fail, from wherever he was.
My uncle finally stopped sending the stamps when he left the merchant navy and returned home.
If I was smarter at that age than perhaps I am now, I would have realised that on the front of every envelope I had ripped open and discarded, sat a shiny foreign stamp.
I would also have realised, as I do now, decades later, that the stamps were not really the point.