For the last three years, my father has been cleaning up his house in anticipation of moving him and my mother into an assisted living facility. Unfortunately, “cleaning up” to him doesn’t necessarily mean “throwing away.” Instead, it’s more easily translated into “give it to Karen.”
So at every visit I find myself with boxes of long-forgotten debris from my childhood. The last box had my comforter from my bedroom in middle school (with disintegrating foam oozing from the seams), an old report card from a clueless English teacher (the subject of another blog), and various elementary school track team ribbons. There was also a tiny plastic teacup that had once belonged in my Barbie house, long since discarded.
But in my most recent visit I hit pay dirt—stacks of old photos and letters. As a bonafide “keeper of memories” with a room in my house dedicated to scrapbooking and photo storage, it makes sense that I’m the repository of old correspondence and my grandmother’s wedding photos.
In this particular box I found a hefty stack of letters I’d written to my parents while I was a student at Tulane University in New Orleans. At the time, my parents were living in Europe and since this was the eighties there were no Internet or cell phones or any easy way to communicate. Hence the stack of handwritten letters.
I hardly recognized the handwriting—mine has really deteriorated in the past mumble-mumble years since I was in college. Not that it was ever anything to brag about, but at least the handwriting of my late-teens and early-twenties was legible. Lots more curly, too, just in case you couldn’t tell from the contents that they were written by a girl in college to her parents.
The letters are all full of news about new friends, and roommates, and sorority parties. There was a whole letter devoted to Mardi Gras parades and balls and another to potential Christmas presents for various family members. The only topic covered in one hundred percent of the letters was my request for funds. I’d be embarrassed, but I must admit that my way of asking was always couched with humor, sweetness, and naivety. Letter after letter after letter, I found a way to let them know that I was on the brink of starvation and destitution and that I might expire soon if I didn’t receive funds ASAP.
And then it hit me. My daughter has been in college for two years and I do not have a single letter from her in all the months she’s been away. Sure, she’s asked for money (and even communicated about other things, too), but always in the form of a text or an email. Rarely, an actual phone call from her cell phone. I don’t have a neat stack of letters wrapped in a disintegrating rubber band shoved in the back of my desk drawer to pull out in ten years and look back at this time in our lives.
I recently learned that in many elementary schools students are no longer being taught how to write in cursive. I’m beginning to hear the death knell of the handwritten letter. The keepsakes for future generations are not even being created. As not only the family historian but also a writer, I can’t help but feel as if an important part of the world has just closed up shop and lowered the shades.
My son graduated from high school this past May. After carefully logging in all of his gifts, I gave him the list and his personalized stationery to write his thank you notes. My children, since birth (with their names and the words “From the Crib Of…” engraved on them) have always had their own stationery. As a girl raised by a Southern Mama, I’d also been raised with personalized stationery always at the ready for any occasion or sentiment that necessitated a handwritten note.
With the long list of gifts and givers in front of him, my son didn’t hesitate. He’s been raised by a Southern Mama, too, after all. This is important. A lot of people might think a handwritten note is going the way of the home telephone and the Walkman, but I am not of that persuasion, by golly. When he was done with the last one, he was also finished with his box of stationery. I immediately went and ordered more.
Yes, I love today’s technology. I have an iPhone, an iPad and a Mac laptop. I couldn’t imagine life without any of them. But as much as I embrace technology, I think it’s just as important to hang on to the things that matter; the things that last. The things that link us from one generation to the next, and to the ones that have come before.
My daughter will be spending her first semester of junior year at St. Andrews in Scotland. She just told me that one of her friends has made beautiful handmade stationery with a travel theme and she will be using those to correspond with my daughter while she’s away. It makes me happy to think that I’m not the only person who feels the importance of taking pen to paper, licking an envelope, and sticking on a stamp. It matters. It really does.
So, here I am writing this on my laptop and after I run it through spell check then I’m going to email it from my parents’ house in Tennessee to Darcy Crowder in Georgia. It will arrive immediately.
Technology is great. But so is a handwritten thank you or birthday note. And I will drop more than one hint from my daughter to write us letters and mail them from Scotland, even if the only thing the letters contain are requests for money.