joankingIn this age when technology has overtaken daily living, many in our older generation regret the lack of personal contact through face-to-face conversation and tangible correspondence.

The technically savvy – through an unofficial survey of friends, relatives and strangers – agree that “(technology) loses something. There’s nothing like a paper in hand that says, ‘I’m thinking of you today.’”

Speed and information of Internet, Facebook, Twitter and texting have replaced notes and letters and have shortened most phone visits. The new language is as indecipherable as the old Latin.

We approach someone who seems to be talking to us and answer, only to realize he or she is talking on a cell phone. When children are quiet, it may be some time before we realize they’re busy texting or listening to music with earphones attached to the latest device.

Seniors who don’t or can’t keep up with technology can be winners or losers. Visits may be interrupted by music, strange noises, even a rooster crow when cell phones ring. Perhaps we should post a sign at the door – “Please turn off all cell phones while on these premises.” We’d have to give in if they wanted to show us pictures on their cell phones!

At the computer, we can print out messages, even pictures, which are wonderful. Unable to attend a family event, instant pictures and videos are now available. But often these stay in the person’s camera or phone for months and eventually are forgotten or deleted.

The older generation, especially those who cannot be out and about, still appreciate a personal visit, phone call or note that they can hold in their hands and re-read over time.

We may spend hours on the computer, reading and sending emails, interacting with Facebook friends and texting (not me), but nothing surpasses maintaining contact like mailing a personal note. It is a soothing process that begins with selecting the right card or note paper, then preparing mentally – a good time for a short meditation – and then lovingly writing our special thoughts.

Some of these saved notes have gained significance over the years. Letters from fellow participants in CRHP (Christ Renews His Parish) weekends or retreats continue to encourage. Notes from children or grandchildren surface when cleaning out drawers and files. Some are fun to re-read and “return to sender.” A brother-in-law always wrote a humorous note after visiting us. One time, after leaving early in the morning, he mentioned that no one said goodbye as only our 6-month-old son was awake and “he wasn’t talking.”

Others can return to a keepsake box until the next cleaning session. We have interesting “hand print” pictures colored to look like a turkey with dictated instructions from a 5-year-old grandson on how to cook the bird – “I will get a turkey from the store for 15 cents. I will use the hose to clean it. I will put bacon and eggs, snails and a cat, and a dog inside my turkey. I will cook the turkey in a really hot oven for 5 minutes. I will eat chips and salmon and cheese sandwiches and deer meat with my turkey.” Who else could envision that meal? Hopefully he’s picked up a few cooking tips before he heads out on his own soon in a college apartment.

When moving, it’s easy to discover letters in odd places. We are starting the pleasant task of re-reading the letters we wrote before we were married. My future husband was busy seeing the world, or at least the Pacific area courtesy of Uncle Sam, and wrote many stories of daily Navy life. My letters to him were stories of small town life, news from friends and daily work at a radio station.

In-law letters from an old trunk offer a glimpse into the early lives of a Milwaukee medical student who loved to write poetry and a World War I army nurse. There are no known letters written between my parents even though they lived in separate states while courting. My mother wrote a “history” that told a lot of her family and early married life, but it was incomplete because she would only include “good” things. The more painful experiences, some tragedies or colorful characters were passed down by word of mouth and if not included, soon will be lost forever.

In some cases, we are now the only links between two or three generations because parents, their siblings and ours have died.

When listening to my older sister recently, I realized that I’m the only one who helps her remember people she worked with or knew in her earlier years – my children and nieces and nephews will never know of these years unless they are recorded in the family history. (At this point, it occurred to me to check the first Communion, confirmation and marriages recorded in our family Bible and they were more incomplete than expected. That will be this afternoon’s project!)

It’s only too late to uncover the stories behind the undated or unidentified pictures and notes when a relative has died and left boxes of these to be sorted through.

Perhaps a class in technology etiquette in today’s world would go a long way to bridge the generation gap. As members of the older generation, we have a duty to ensure that our children and grandchildren can still read, write and carry on a conversation in a time free of electronic devices.

If there were only email and blogs somewhere in cyberspace, these memories could be lost forever.

The written word has established our place in history and will continue to tell future generations in writing and pictures about the 20 and 21st Centuries. Or maybe future generations will uncover old Mac hard drives, CD’s and iPods and wonder about their significance.

(King, a member of Blessed Teresa of Calcutta Parish, North Lake, is married to Thomas. They have seven children, 17 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.)