Thursday, July 9, 2009


A generation of us grew up hearing stories about our parents who walked uphill both ways to school, with cardboard tucked into their shoes that had holes in the soles. The uphill both ways part was obviously fable, but there was truth to the stories too. At least I know my parents didn’t exaggerate about much in their stories from the old country, which of course I am more interested in hearing now that I am an adult. When I was a teenager, getting ready to hop in a Jill's green Gran Torino instead of stand in the cold at the bus stop, I wasn’t as interested in hearing them. They made me feel bad. Regardless, I wondered, when they told their stories, what our stories would be for the next generation.

Though not for the first time, I began crafting my I-remember-when story yesterday as I passed an eighteen year old on the highway who was texting. Yes. In the right lane. Text messaging as she drove. On the highway yesterday I feared for my safety. In the classroom, I get annoyed. Texts are no longer hardcover books. Rather, they are messages students send while I am teaching because they think I won’t notice their heads dropped while their hands disappear under their desks--because they can’t wait another 42 minutes to talk to their friends during hall passing time, perhaps just another 5 or 10 minutes if the friends are in the same class. The Instant Gratification Generation, I call them.

This is my story from us--who had to wait more than an instant for everything--to them, who grew up in the high tech communication age.

When I was in high school, even in college, we didn’t have cell phones. In college, many of us shared a phone that hung on a wall with a cord attached because paying a monthly phone bill was out of our budget range. We’d wait for people to call us. Those of us who did choose to have a phone in our rooms shared the bill with a roommate and, because we paid by the minute to talk long distance, we had to exercise some restraint. Many of us scheduled weekly check-ins. I spoke to my parents on Sundays.

We also didn’t have email. So you couldn’t text, you couldn’t call without watching the clock, and you couldn’t email either! We wrote letters. With paper and pens. And envelopes and stamps. I remember when I was a senior in high school being excited about getting letters from my sister Liz and a couple of neighborhood friends (Paula and Sue) who were freshman in college. One Friday afternoon in particular, early in September, I remember hearing from one of them for the first time since they left, reading the letter as Jill drove us around town in said Gran Torino. When I got to college the following year, getting letters was even more exciting. I always loved writing letters as much as I loved finding them in my mailbox.

I have given in to technology and now enjoy the convenience of cell phones. I even text message. But I saved many of the letters and cards and postcards I received and every once in a while I will go through a memory box and read a few. Holding them in my hands, without hitting any buttons or clicking any keys, brings me back in time…

To when I walked uphill to school. Both ways.

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