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August 19, 2008

Lost Treasure

LettersSeven or eight years ago I was on the phone with my mom, who had been cleaning out storage boxes at her house.  She mentioned a few things she found; some were packed back in their boxes and some tossed out. 

One of the things she came across was a box of letters sent to her from my father when they were engaged.  It was 1965.  He was in the Air Force, stationed at Luke Air Base in Arizona (Mom was still back in Ohio), but the conflict in Vietnam had resulted in him being sent to Thailand. 

Because of this, my mother's planned May wedding had to be postponed until October.  Her dress was taken in several sizes by the time he was home safe and the wedding finally arrived. . 

I had not been aware of the existence of these letters, but the thought of them was exciting! What a wonderful glimpse back in time; my father in his early twenties, in a war zone, writing to his soon-to-be-bride.  I imagined what tone the letters might have, what experiences and sights he would tell her about, and what his handwriting would look like. 

The old letters seemed an unexpected family treasure.  I quickly imagined myself someday pulling them from the attic and dusting them off, reading carefully, and packing them away again for my children to someday read, and in so doing, hear their grandfather's voice from the past.

Then she told me she threw them out. 

"You what?" I was incredulous.  "Why? Why would you do that?"

She told me they were personal, and she thought she'd kept them long enough. 

I was floored.  I asked what he wrote about, and if was there was any reason she would not have wanted me to read the letters. 

"Oh there was nothing that couldn't be read," she assured me. "He just wrote about what he was seeing and doing in Thailand."  Yes, that sounds exactly like what my father would write.

I still think about these letters.  They were personal and I had no right to them.  Of course she could do whatever she wanted with her letters.  But I was just plain frustrated.  Why tell me about this very cool treasure and in the next breath announce its destruction?  I'd have preferred not to ever know about them!

Today, with blogging being the new letter writing, and I predict thousands of children will rue the day their mother, or father, or both, decided to actually publish, real time, for consumption by the entire world wide web, intimate details of their relationship and the raising of their offspring. I imagine in the not so distant future, some parents are going to hear from their kids about this situation; from moaning, to OMG YOU DID NOT!, to perhaps "here's my therapy bill for the month."

So while coming generations may wish their parents had left a lot of things "unrecorded," it seems natural that I would wish for this small, rare glimpse at my young parents. I've seen many pictures and heard many stories, but one thing pre- and post Internet children will agree on is that words are a different way of knowing altogether.

Good, old-fashioned letters.  Those can't be so easily copied and pasted, saved back to draft, or burned to a CD.  My dad's letters are gone.  And so it's done. 

But I sure do wish she'd thought to ask me if I might be interested in some dusty, faded old notes from the past, or just stashed them someplace where I'd find them eventually.  Like a lost treasure


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