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  • When my mother cleaned out the house after my grandparents died, she saved some of the evidence of life they left behind - papers granting water shares, descriptions of properties traded or sold. They were of interest mostly because of the signatures of original settlers of the town that even I still recognized. Her father had written down the words to the handcart song in memory of his parents who traveled by that means to Utah, but there was little else in the way of personal papers. Poignantly, because grandmother had lost her hearing, she did find, on odd scraps of paper and backs of envelopes, snatches of written, one-sided conversations . Grandpa had written answers to questions or passed on interesting tidbits that grandma had missed. Such scraps gave us little insight to the content of the communication, but the context was instantly clear. And, preciously, there was a remarkably unromantic letter from him to grandma shortly before they were married. He did gently let her know he was lonesome and that it didn't help that she had not answered his last two letters.

    There may have been more, but these were all that my mother saved for me to “refind” when I cleaned out her home. Among her special-enough-to-save papers were letters from people she worked with at Bryce Canyon National Park in the 1930’s and with whom she had made a strong bond. The identifying card from the hospital bassinet when I was born was there, but nothing about my father beyond the divorce document. I was delighted to find copies of her writing - a couple of short stories published in a magazine - and a newspaper clipping citing her as one of Utah’s promising young authors. Best of all were the handwritten copies of poems my daughter found that give her a glimpse of her beloved grandmother as a young woman.

    I’ve been wondering what my children will find -- and what they will find of value. I kept a journal for maybe 6 years. I had to check to see if it even knew I have a daughter! I still have elementary report cards and a few stories I wrote for class assignments. I’ve saved a handful of letters from students or their parents. I kept the notes for my Civil War lectures, but have no letters from my husband or my own children. Was I more teacher than mom or did they just not write?

    Times have changed. How will my children find the electronic memories of the things written now? Letters are short email bursts or even shorter Facebook posts, gone somewhere, not even preserved in a cloud. Will they even know to look on Cowbird? Does a list of passwords need to be part of a will now?

    And will they even know they have missed the tactile pleasure of holding a tucked away paper made soft by years of folding and refolding? Maybe there is something valuable about having to clean out the house left behind.....
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