Of Snail Mail, E-Mail, and the Conflicting Emotions They Create

12 04 2009

Trips—the return home from them, actually—set me to thinking. And the thinking sends me to my computer for a writing session. Typing out my experiences while the emotions they evoked are vibrant seems necessary, and urgent.

Travel and visiting with family and friends revives memories of former get togethers and also makes new ones for storing away in my memory bank. I visited family during my 3 March-7 April visit to the US. And I visited in the home of Howard and Sybil Burns. Howard is a Burns School (Mississippi) classmate that I had not seen since leaving school. Though I had not seen Howard for more than 50 years, he and Sybil welcomed my sister, Anne, and me into their home as if we were regular visitors.

Howard brought out a 1958 school annual, and then he and Sybil graciously sat with Anne and me as we looked at every photo on every page of that book. We reminisced and giggled as if we were kids back in school. And when I left Howard and sybil’s home, I carried with me two treasures: a copy Howard had so generously made of the 1958 Burns-O-Lite annual and a renewed sense of connection.

Connections, for me, hold my memories together like those old-fashioned corner brackets we used long ago held photos in place on the pages of our photo albums and scrapbooks. Today, we take digital photos and need no corner bracket to hold them inside our digitized memory books. And with a few key strokes, we can instantly share these wondrous books with family and friends via the World Wide Web.

I love the fact that we can do that. This electronic age allowed me to find Howard and his wife, Sybil, through a “people search.” It also allowed me to arrange to visit them in their home.During that visit, I asked if Howard had contact information for other members of our class.

He did. Including a telephone number of the classmate that I’d missed terrible after leaving school. The one I’d done dozens of people searches for only to find no useful information. As soon as I’d dropped off my sister at her home, I picked up my cell phone with the intention of placing a call to my friend from school. A flash of trepidation stopped me. I’d felt closer to my friend than to my own sister. But 51 years had passed during which we’d had no contact.

My stomach jittered as I punched up my courage and dialed the number Howard had given to me and my mouth went dry as I listened to the sound of ringing phone. What if my very best friend from school did not remember me? Or worse, had no interest in renewing our friendship? To my utter delight, she answered the third ring of her phone and when I identified myself, seemed as happy to hear my voice as I was to hear hers.

We spent quite a bit of time on the phone, catching up. Now, we exchange frequent e-mail messages. We are even working out plans to meet the next time I make a visit to the US. For me, the best part of re-establishing contact with this friend is that I feel as close to her now as I did when we saw each other at school every weekday.And I sit her in awe of the wonders this electronic age has brought.

In 1946, the year I began first grade at Burns School, it took the same number of days for me to receive a letter in Trenton, Mississippi, from a cousin in Trenton, New Jersey, as it now takes for me to receive a letter in Atenas, Costa Rica, from my sister in Mississippi. That is a definite, WOW! But an even bigger WOW is that I can now receive—almost instantly—a message from anyone anywhere in the world who has access to a computer that is connected to the World Wide Web.

My mother was postmaster at Trenton in 1946 and back then, I awaited the arrival of the mail carrier each day with the same great eagerness that I experience today when I click a button on my computer and check for new e-mail. And I was thinking of all that a few days ago as I dialed the telephone number of my best friend from school.

I was swamped with emotion when I heard her voice for the first time in more than 50 years and I am  swamped with emotion again each time I open an e-mail message from her. I wanted to kiss my cell phone as my friend and I talked a few days ago and I have fallen in love all over again with our electronic age during the days since. My friend and I have sent a steady stream of e-mail messages and photos via the Internet. She sent to me the photo of our First Grade class.

I had never seen the photo and each time I look at the group that I began school with, I experience a new surge of pleasure. Yet, sitting here at my computer and thinking about the snail mail of my school days and electornic mail of today brings this realization: I am conflicted.

I would not, for the world, give up my computer and connection to the Internet—which allows me to communicate with family and friends 24/7 despite the fact that I am in Central America and they are in the United States of America. But neither would I give up the joyful experience of sitting down with friends and family, opening up an old school annual or photo album, and whiling away time in reminiscing about days gone by.

How lucky I am in that I do not have to give up either!

I close this entry with a request: if anyone who ever attended Burns School in Mississippi reads this, please contact me. I would love to reminisce, swap e-mail messages, and share photos.

Betty Traxler Eppes

11 April 2009 Acropoita, Atenas, Costa Rica, Central America