Here Today, Gone Tomorrow

Here Today, Gone Tomorrow

Barbara reflects on the history being lost because of the convenience and speed of electronic and digital communication that has made letters seem impractical. “But don’t let your personal, family, and home-business history get lost in the process,” she urges.

THIS NOSTALGIC NOTE from fellow author and business friend Leila Peltosaari was written while she was packing for a move to new quarters one year:

“I ran across some of your old print newsletters and just sat there and reminisced—it was such a nice era. Remember? This was before computers taking all of our time. Your newsletter was so charming and such a good read; you featured me in many of them and I remember how pleasant it was to get it in the mail. Those times seems so far away now and we both have been through a lot. This electronic era doesn’t have the same old-fashioned charm, but what can we do, except just go with the times?”

Many of my readers have no idea that my husband and I published a quarterly magazine called Artisan Crafts from 1971 through mid-1976 when a recession finally did us in. I ceased publication gracefully by going out with a special three-issue award-winning Bicentennial Series I called CraftSpirit 76.

After publishing my first book, I launched a print subscription newsletter that thrived from 1981 to mid-1995. Of course all this started long before I had a computer—back in the “dark ages” where everything had to be done on an electronic typewriter and glued to boards for the printer with typesetting purchased for headlines and red film cut to indicate the placement of photographs. My newsletter had three different names and formats through the years, and it was such a boon to me when I finally got my first computer and could begin to produce and lay out issues with considerably greater ease, although nothing compared to what can be done on the computer now.

Snail Mail and Emails

old-fashioned mailboxI LOVE THE INTERNET and email, too, but I very much miss the warmth of the snail mail I used to receive from publicity mentions and from readers of my newsletter and various magazine columns—usually 25,000 letters or more a year. Some letters were typed, of course, but most of my mail in those days came from home business beginners who sent charming hand-written notes, cards, or very long letters filled with a unique combination of hope, joy, frustration, excitement, worry, and fear of the unknown. Often, there were enclosures of a newly printed brochure, flyer, or business card. This mail was always extremely personal and infinitely satisfying to me.

Many of the folks who wrote to me in the seventies, eighties, and early nineties ended up being featured in one or more of my home-business books. In the early days, I couldn’t afford unlimited long-distance telephone calls, so much of my interviewing had to be done tediously by letter until telephone rates became more affordable.

The information I got from thousands of letters sent and received enabled me to document the early history of the home-business movement in a way no other author was doing then or has done since. Wanting to be truly helpful to others, my book contributors gave me cautionary tips and sage words of advice and encouragement that added a unique personal quality to the sound business information I included in each of my books. (Sorry they’re so old now I can’t recommend their purchase.)

Of course I love being able to do research on the internet and communicate with my readers by telephone and email, but an email message printed on paper for reference can’t begin to compare to the warmth of a personal letter on stationery or greeting card that comes through the mail. I treasure the greeting cards and notes some of my older friends are still sending to me.

The History Being Lost Today

MOST PEOPLE TODAY—even older people who used to prefer writing letters—seem to love the ease with which they can communicate electronically by email, telephone, text messaging, Skype, and more recently FaceTime and Zoom technology. But what I see happening here is a complete loss of personal, family, and home-business and career history. That’s why for years I’ve been encouraging people to print or at least save for printing later all the most interesting email messages received from family and friends, as well as copies of their own interesting and informative messages. (Forget about saving trees; what you need to focus on here is saving history.)

Family activities and history posted on Facebook is certainly a great way to share information, but what happens when the person with that Facebook account dies? Family members may have difficulty accessing all the info and photos published there, so remember that whatever is important to a family from a historical perspective should also be saved in a way that it can be gathered together and published as a stand-alone PDF document.

Something that continues to give me special pleasure today is that many of the readers on my Brabec Bulletin mailing list are folks who have been with me through thick and thin over many years. We have a shared history of “the good old days” that no amount of technology can replace, and I value these friendships very much and have saved my email exchanges with many of them in Word documents bearing their names. Memory fails, but I like having a document I can open to refresh my memory on what I last discussed with someone. I also print out my most informative emails to friends and family members and save them as my journal note for that day.

Any thinking person can see how the details of our personal, family, and business lives are falling through the cracks here, along with the kind of family history that generations before us carefully documented in letters, journals, and scrapbooks. But it’s not just history that we can capture by saving our email messages. As Gwen Lord, a long-time reader and business friend explained one day:

“Barbara: We have shared so many ‘special emails’ of encouragement for such a long time and I have saved many of them in a folder because they were so full of wonderful advice and tidbits about how to enhance my business. I have so many of your newsletters there, too, and get such a kick out of reading them from time to time.

“In 2005 you posted some of my thoughts and ideas in your newsletter and I printed them and hung them on the wall behind my computer. I’m especially fond of ‘the little train that could’ entry, and it still makes me smile to just see the clip art of the little train you used, and I’m amazed now by how my own words there have been such a source of encouragement over the years.”

Without question, our own words can come back to us years later to become a tremendous source of help and encouragement to us—which is exactly why I have always urged people to keep a journal. When we write our thoughts and feelings from the heart at the time they occur to us, we are able to tap into something elusive that will be lost forever if we don’t grab it right then and put it in writing. As proof, I offer my memoir, The Drummer Drives! Everybody Else Rides, a book that was based entirely on years of journal writing, plus a lifetime of letters Harry and I wrote to friends and family and kept copies of. I never could have written this book or the one about my mother’s life if I hadn’t begun to document my life in writing at the age of eighteen by writing letters to her. She saved all of them and gave them back to me when I was in my mid-forties, and they made me feel as though I’d struck gold. I had no idea of the thousands of little details of my life that I had shared with her and completely forgotten in the “rush of living,” and it was such fun to live those years over again through my own writing.

If there is any real point to this article, beyond the fact that I just need to get these thoughts “out there” for others to read, it’s that I want you to realize it’s not too late for you to start capturing your own personal and family history for posterity (or, as my late husband Harry used to say, “for ma’s territy, too.” So start journaling now if you’re not already doing this, and also start printing copies of all your most interesting and informative personal and family email messages. Then one day you will be able to leave your children and grandchildren a written legacy of not only your life, but theirs as well. And they will love you for it.

Related Articles:

The Handwriting and Humor of Harry Brabec. A lesson on the importance of preserving copies of the letters and emails you are sending and receiving from family member and friends.

The Historical Importance of Family Letters and Journals. Our family histories are being lost because no one is saving written details for posterity. Real letters cannot be replaced by phone calls, email and text messages, or Facebook posts.

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