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With Apologies to Ma Bell

mayWritten by the late James R. May. Originally published in the Oologah Lake Leader.

One of the most useful of modern inventions is, without a doubt, the telephone. From the time Alexander Graham Bell said, “Watson, come here, I need you”, the telephone has become a vital part of the world’s communication infrastructure. All of that when the telephone just relayed simple electrical impulses that our ears perceived as words. Now we have been inundated with cordless phones, cellular phones, speaker phones and view phones. Phone lines now carry medical data, fax information, burglar alarm signals and fire alarms. That is just the beginning. The other day, I used a phone in my office, the phone in my van, and then made a business call from my seat in an airplane.

All of this technical advancement has not been without a price. The omnipresent telephone works both ways. Not only can we “reach out and touch someone”, a lot of someones can reach out and touch us. There is something about turning on the shower and reaching for the soap that causes the phone to ring. There is another whole column in that, and it will be dealt with another time. My greatest lament about the telephone is that it has caused the near total demise of the friendly letter. The letters with window envelopes that start out “Dear customer, Please remit” are still there in abundance.

SONY DSCIt is far too easy to pick up the phone and call a friend across town or across the country. Speedy, efficient, economical in most cases, but gone is the letter that you can hold in your hand. Gone is the tangible remembrance of the communication. For me, there has always been warm comfort to physically hold the words from a friend. There is something refreshingly stable in a stack of letters tucked into a drawer somewhere.

My great Aunt Allene used to write to me. Her letters were filled with newsy gossip, a jelly recipe, encouragement for living and good, practical advice. It has been years since she died, but still she is with me through a small stack of letters that I treasure.

Recently, I inquired among my friends and found very few who still take the time to write personal letters. Life is busy and the telephone is handy. What a pity. All those words spoken, all those ideas exchanged, and so little remembered. How do you pass on a phone conversation to your children?

I have a folder filled with letters from a friend of 40 years who still feels the way I do about letters. I have letters from a friend who has been a nun for 50 years. Letters from such friends as these are ever a comfort to me. I have letters from my father that are filled with family history that would have long since been lost in a phone call.

The written word has been a great comfort to me all of my life. I hope that my letters have been as warmly welcomed. I suppose that is why my columns sometimes read like letters. Maybe it is personal vanity trying to achieve a tiny bit of immortality. Call if you must, but write if you can.

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