In looking through some old posts, I ran across one written in 2012 about finding boxes of letters our girls wrote the first few years they were away from home on their own: Elly at the University of Oregon and Sarah in New York City at the Academy of Dramatic Arts.
In the ensuing seven years since I wrote that post, there has been an enormous change in the attitude and behavior of young people who have left the nest to pursue higher education. For the most part this new breed seems to be too fragile, too insecure, too frightened to take on the job of becoming thoroughly grown up. We call them “snowflakes” for good reason. I just read that somewhere a professor of literature feels obliged to issue a trigger warning when they are about to read and discuss fairy tales!
The collection of letters from our daughters, tell the story of the everyday activities and concerns of teenagers during their first years away from home, learning to be independent during the seventies, when the digital age was just around the corner.
They are already historic documents of a sort
Hardly anyone writes letters like this any more. They were frequent and long— page after page of complete sentences. And almost all of them are written in longhand—very readable and consistent cursive. Sarah had no need for a typewriter since few papers were required at the Academy (her tool of learning was a cassette tape recorder). Elly had a typewriter, but chose to write in longhand instead of typing. The letters are truly charming, often funny, and frequently contemplative.
But I think even more important than that they represent the dying tradition of newsy letter writing is the fact that these girls were truly away from home and their parents. Today, maturing children can text and Skype and email and immediately get help, advice, or at least sympathy. Our girls had to figure it out by themselves. They could have phoned, of course, and sometimes they did, but I don’t recall too many phone calls, probably because it meant an international phone call charged by the minute. Today young people have contemporaneous back and forth texting at their fingertips. Even a phone call requires a certain amount of retrospective synthesizing of experience before you talk about it. Texting soon after or, for heavens sake during, an experience removes the probability of mulling it over independently.
However, I don’t think it was necessarily a totally positive situation. Learning to fly is hard, and many times I have thought how wonderful it would have been if we could have instantaneously communicated by email. And I am sure there were occasions that would have benefited from adult intervention. But our girls learned to manage—no doubt faster than if we had been available to help solve problems immediately. Both of them eventually lived in private housing and dealt with associated problems with landlords, phone companies , and the like. If they needed to go to the doctor, they just did. We learned about it later–a week or two later.
Instead of stuffing the letters back in the box we found them in, we decided to store them in archival boxes. Digitizing them is a bridge too far for us, but maybe someone someday will decide to do that.
I dare says everybody has important paper objects that need to be saved and protected for future generations. Not just the obvious diplomas, birth and marriage certificates, awards, and so on, but personal letters, photographs, post cards, greeting cards, children’s drawings, homework, and recipe cards. Yes–recipe cards!
If you want to know all about organizing and preserving your family memorabilia, check out the this source: http://thefamilycurator.com