Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

You've Got Mail - and History - in Your Inbox

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

You've Got Mail - and History - in Your Inbox

Article excerpt

When I was in seventh grade, my friend Lydia moved away. For years afterward, my mother exchanged letters with her family in North Carolina. The thump of envelopes hitting the floor would send me running to the front door, eagerly sifting through the pile to find Lydia's signature lower-case block lettering.

Lydia wrote long descriptions of the people she hung out with and the things she was doing. And she would enclose little surveys for me. What was my favorite album? Which did I like better, "The Brady Bunch" or "The Partridge Family"?

I still look at these letters every so often. Mom always kept the letters she got, so I saved Lydia's. I can't remember who wrote last, but the letters stopped when we were in college. After that, I lost track of Lydia. But I still like glimpsing the 1970s through her letters.

Mom started writing me during my freshman year at college. I kept her letters in my dorm room. At the end of the term, I brought them home to add to my collection.

Mom's letters give rich details of her life and a mirror into my own. Some describe her transition from art teacher to lobbyist in the 1980s. Others tell the family stories she unearthed as she began researching family history in the early 1990s. Most are just about everyday stuff that was going on at home in Chevy Chase, Md. while I was away at college, starting a career in New York City, and, in the 1990s, raising a family in California.

The letters from Lydia and Mom are mingled with others in a cardboard box in my attic. Though I try to de-clutter I can't bring myself to get rid of this box. Too much history would be lost.

Mom's letters stopped in 1997. That's the year we started e- mailing each other. No more letters in the box. I saved e-mails instead. Not just Mom's, either.

But even computers don't last forever and it was time to upgrade mine.

I sat staring at my old computer screen on a recent Friday night.

"What do I do with the 2,236 e-mails saved on my hard drive?" I wondered. I immediately purged all forwarded jokes and scam opportunities. I scrolled down to hockey team announcements, Tiger Cub mailings, and science fair committee news. …

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