This blog represents most of the newspaper columns (appearing in various Colorado Community Newspapers and Yourhub.com) written by me, James LaRue, during the time in which I was the director of the Douglas County Libraries in Douglas County, Colorado. (Some columns are missing, due to my own filing errors.) This blog covers the time period from April 11, 1990 to January 12, 2012.

Unless I say so, the views expressed here are mine and mine alone. They may be quoted elsewhere, so long as you give attribution. The dates are (at least according my records) the dates of publication in one of the above print newspapers.

The blog archive (web view) is in chronological order. The display of entries, below, seems to be in reverse order, new to old.

All of the mistakes are of course my own responsibility.

Wednesday, July 25, 1990

July 25, 1990 - The decline of correspondence

Last night my wife and I got a rare and precious gift -- a letter from a friend.

The friend, Gary, is living for the summer in a ramshackle cabin near Middlebury, Vermont. He dwelt in loving detail on the kitchen, the windows, the knobby pines, the sewings of his wife. I sat out on my porch and gloated over every word.

"Isn't it wonderful?" my wife sang from inside.

"I hate it!" I shouted. "I'm already on the last page!"

So I read it again.

Most of the year, my friend is an English teacher at a small college in Illinois. Probably he can be forgiven for his unabashed revelry in the English language.

But his letter reminded me of something he had said years ago. At that time, he was busy transcribing and indexing a trunk-full of correspondence from his wife's great-grandmother, a woman named Mollie. Mollie had lead a fascinating life, tightly bound with the development of Mormonism. A turning point had been the death of Joseph Smith, founder of the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints. Mollie's people broke away from Brigham Young to follow Joseph Smith, Jr. Her letters documented this deep rift in what was then a young religion, as well as Mollie's often eloquent observations of the people and events of her time.

"Did you ever stop to wonder," Gary asked me, "how historians will reconstruct the people's lives of our time? #There are no letters#."

The decline of correspondence sounds trivial, but isn't. Even a generation ago, people took the time to write each other. Letters were often the only way they had to bridge the gap of distance and time. Today we might send cards when the calendar dictates -- but those are Hallmark sentiments, not ours.

Of course, distance doesn't mean what it used to. I can fly the thousand miles back to my hometown in a couple of hours. Or I can do what so many people do in America -- phone home. I may not get anyone the first ring. But one of my sisters has call-forwarding, and the other has a phone-answering machine.

But suppose some night I talk with one of my sisters on the phone, and I suddenly remember a story she has never heard before, a story my grandmother told me. Maybe my sister will remember enough of it to pass on. More likely, this little chapter of family history will disappear, as irretrievable as the wind.

Right now (unless the police show an interest in you) you can't replay a phone conversation. By contrast, letters, like books, are infinitely repeatable experiences. You can rush through them once, savor them the second time, read between the lines the third time, catch the subtle joke the fourth time, and so on, ad infinitum. You can pass them on to your descendants.

I treasure my friend's letter because it represents an island of literacy in a sea of transient conversation. And I will keep it.

So the next time you feel the urge to communicate, why not reach out ... and #write# someone?

Who knows? One day it just might wind up in a library.

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