While cleaning out closets, my father stumbled across a stack of letters that he had written my mother during his brief tour of duty in the Korean War. He had saved a similar bundle of letters from my mother. When compiled together, their wartime correspondence provided a rare glimpse into life in the 1950’s, basic training, and my parents’ courtship.
Of course, these letters were of interest to me as a matter of family history. But they also reminded me of the letters and cards I’ve kept from my own courtship days. My husband’s missives to me, tied with a red ribbon, are hidden away in the bottom of a drawer. My husband has a similar stack (perhaps less well organized) buried somewhere among his possessions. One day, when I am gone, I imagine my children will find these letters and wonder at the strange glimpse of their parents that they reveal. And I can’t help but wonder what the next generation will leave behind.
My kids live in an electronic age of texts and tweets. Even e-mail seems a bit old school. Yet I can’t imagine saving electronic messages from your lover. Is that an iPhone under your pillow? A memory stick tied with a red ribbon? Will you be able to decipher that cryptic text message twenty years from now? Will you be able to retrieve it when today’s hardware becomes as antiquated as the 8-track tape?
One glance at the top of my file cabinet reveals a collection of old floppies, hard disks, and even a tape reel. My not-so-distant electronic past is inaccessible, stored in a stack of obsolete technology. Paper may yellow and ink may fade, but old letters are still legible after all these years.
And so, my young friends, this question seems particularly relevant as Valentine’s Day approaches. What’s your verdict? Is the love letter dead?