Kansas Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - June 23, 2017
Lost in translation
On a typical day, I receive a few pieces of junk mail, maybe a newspaper or magazine, and a bill or two. And at my work place at Kansas State University, the stuff delivered in my mailbox is even less personal - usually a newspaper or a flier announcing some event on campus.
But I was pleasantly surprised a few weeks ago when I received a handwritten note from a former student.
Dear Gloria, I hope this note finds you well. :-) I wanted to let you know that I’ve been thinking about you, as I was cleaning out my email several weeks ago and came across several photos you sent me in summer 2008 of Sam, Bonnie and myself at the JMC [journalism and mass communications] graduation party. I had forgotten about those photos, so it was nice to come across them again! ...
The note card had a colorful owl on the front. It made me smile.
Then a few days later in the mail at home, there was a pretty card from daughter Katie’s fiance’s mother. We were at a K-State choir program in Kansas City the weekend before. “... I am so glad you joined us on Sunday and we were able to share some time together...”
The front of the card had a verse by Ralph Waldo Emerson: “Write it on your heart that every day is the best day in the year.”
That card made me smile, too.
It made me think about how rare it is to get a handwritten note these days. When I want to “correspond” with my sister Gaila in Bolivia, adopted German “kids” Nadja and Tim in Berlin, college roommate Deb or globe-trotting friend Bryce, I usually send a quick WhatsApp message on my phone. I love it when I hear back from them right away because I feel like I’m “chatting” with them. And a bonus is that we can share photos using this phone application. The same goes for text messages to husband Art, our daughters and other friends.
If I feel like I need to write more than just a few sentences, I usually send emails. They’re also quick, don’t require stamps and don’t require a trip to the post office.
Still, I feel like maybe we’ve lost something in the “translation” to new technology. That came to mind when I was helping Katie go through her old room here at home a few Saturdays ago. We weren’t tackling just her childhood stuffed animals and high school notebooks. Ever since she and her big sister Mariya left home after graduating from high school, I’ve slowly taken over their rooms with various scrapbooks, piles of unsorted photos and other paperwork.
Among the piles was a six-inch-high stack of emails to me dating back to 2009 that I had printed out. They included messages from my siblings, other family members and close friends. I’m not sure why I printed and saved them, but I think I must have been trying to re-create the old-fashioned idea of “letters tied with ribbons” that people used to find in shoe boxes in their attics.
I actually found such a bundle of letters that my great-great-great grandparents wrote to their daughter in the 1850s. They were inside a trunk on my family’s farm. Each letter was tucked inside an envelope that had been carefully sealed with wax.
For the past year, husband Art and I have been going through another treasure trove of letters written from the 1890s through the 1980s. They’re to and from Velma Carson, the woman who was a K-State student during the World War I years and who went on to write for many publications. Although some of the letters are hard to read because they were written in pencil and the cursive writing is difficult to make out, they are a real window into the life of this woman and her circle of family members and friends.
Mom always remembered family members and friends with birthday, anniversary and holiday greetings. The cards were beautiful, and Mom always included a personal note. I found some of them in Katie’s room and put them into a drawer for safekeeping.
K-State’s head football coach Bill Snyder also sends hand-written notes - congratulatory notes to opposing players, responses to letters he receives, thank-yous to marching band members for their support, notes to fans - all treasured messages.
So what to do with the emails I printed out? Some of them have interesting family information in them. Yet somehow, they seem too formal, too perfect with their uniformity. Because they don’t have individual scrawls or curves, I can’t discern who wrote the email until I look at the “from” at the top of the message.
When I asked Gaila what I should do with them, her one-word response was: “Toss!”
While friend Deb was a bit more detailed, she was also in Gaila’s camp. Still, the family historian in me wants to hang on to them. They’re tangible evidence of things that were happening in my life at certain points - far more so than fleeting WhatsApp or text messages.
So for now, I’m storing the emails in a plastic storage box on a closet shelf. I can always toss them another time.
A letter written on March 29, 1855 by my great-great-great grandfather Robert Shannon from his home in Waterloo Township near present-day Galt, Ontario, Canada to his daughter and son-in-law in rural Whiteside County, Illinois. While the 10-cent postage may seem cheap, it was about a day's pay as a farmhand. Top-left: the envelope was just the back side of the letter. The left and right edges were first folded toward the written side of the letter. Then the bottom was folded in the same manner, followed by the top over the bottom. The remnants of the red wax used to seal the letter are visible; top-right; front of the sealed letter. It was postmarked at New Hope, Canada, now Hespeler. Empire was a small village near the Hellyer farm just west of Sterling, Illinois; middle: head of the letter; bottom: Robert signed the letter "I remain your affectionate father to death."