Time was, people used to write each other letters. If a message was particularly urgent, theyd send a telegram.
Occasionally a story will surface about someone who found a box full of love letters written by their parents or grandparents a couple of generations ago and want to share the story of the type of relationships people had 75 years ago.
Some people have started to accumulate letters written home by Civil War soldiers. They form little shreds of history that through some miracle have been saved from one century to the next.
People dont write letters much any more. They send each other emails, or text messages, or tweets, or they put inane posts on their Facebook pages. Theyre usually short and impersonal.
One type of modern message does remain personal, though: the voice mail, a wonderful little thing that didnt even exist until a few years ago, something that can serve as a soothing reminder or a shred of all that is left of someone.
Richard Woehnker has three of those. He runs Summit Hair Design at 6042 E. State Blvd. He used to have an answering machine at the business, but they kept breaking, so he opted to pay $8 or so a month for a service that stored his voice mails. When he got a voice mail hed write down the information and then press 3 and delete the message.
But there were three messages that he never deleted. Every month hed get a reminder that his old messages would be deleted, but hed press 9 on those three messages to make sure they were saved.
The messages were from his father, who developed cancer about three years ago and was given six months to live. He survived for 18 months, and during that time he called his sons shop three times, didnt get an answer and left a message.
Woehnkers father died 18 months ago, and those three messages are pretty much all he has left of his father. He says he listens to the messages a couple of times a week.
Then Woehnker got a message from the company that stores his voice mail. The system had been upgraded in September, and all old messages would be deleted as of Nov. 4.
Woehnker called the company. If the system was upgraded a month ago and the messages were still there, why couldnt they be preserved?
No, he said he was told, the messages cant be saved. They will disappear.
It doesnt make sense to Woehnker. Certainly something can be done to preserve the messages.
There must be some way to call up the messages and record them on another device, I suggested, though I would have no idea just how to do that.
Woehnkers story isnt unique. Just last week the newspaper ran a story about families that had deliberately saved old messages – from a daughter who had died in a car crash, from a soldier who had died, or from now-dead parents.
As cold and impersonal as todays electronic communications are, it is amazing that one way of communicating proved one of the warmest ever invented.
Its just as amazing that we have designed ways of communicating that can coldly be erased, as though no one matters.