A friend at my college reunion reminded me of the time I almost set the dorm on fire, burning letters from ex-boyfriends in a trash basket. Hey, it was all that was available! I vaguely remember the incident, but what I most remember is not wanting my future kids to read anything even I didn't want to read. I have to take back that sentiment, at least most of it.
In going through boxes of old photos and letters from my parents' house, I've discovered a treasure trove of history. While I never knew my father's parents took an extended trip through Europe in 1954, my grandmother kept a travel journal, filled with post cards and observations, many of them astute. It was such fun to read about her disbelief in certain superstitions, her abhorrence of the pigeons in St. Mark's Square, and her sleuthing to find out the real identity of the mystery man who ate every evening at the captain's table on the boat back to the States. She decided he was a spy. I also learned that the Duke of Windsor was very nice, but his duchess only clever and rather cold, albeit very well preserved. The Duke of Edinburgh was all that he should be, and Field Marshal Montgomery had a summer chateau near Fountainbleau. Oh, and the pope was also very charming. How I wish I'd known my grandparents had these stories to tell!
She called my grandfather "Sugar" when she wrote him letters, and her concern for his welfare was always uppermost. She admonished him to not let the gray weather get him "down," and to keep track of everyone wining and dining him while she was away, so she could repay them with dinners once she got home. The letters sound so much like her, I can almost hear her voice.
My mother wrote her mother religiously, every week. Fortunately my grandmother saved the ones that came from the Middle East, and reading about events I still remember, only from my mother's viewpoint, is fascinating. I didn't realize she was fully cognizant of how bored I was in school, and how much I longed to be an ordinary American teenager, not an "ugly American" living abroad. Politics, espionage, concern for the welfare of Middle Eastern women, and the constant hassle of entertaining on an Embassy level, filled her letters as well. Fortunately, my mom spoke enough Turkish and French to be a real asset to my dad, the army attache', and reading about her linguistic maneuvers on his behalf are a hoot!
Since enjoying this reading repast, I am determined to write more letters of my own. Photos now languish on my hard drive, emails get deleted, and text messages replace conversations. The one thing I can do to give myself the feeling of keeping something important from slipping into obscurity, is to write people. Friends. Family. The newspaper. It doesn't matter.
The written word does.