An embarrassment of riches

by chuckofish

Or, in our case, just an embarrassment.  I’ve been amusing myself this week reading old letters and my adolescent diary (what a bore!). Most of the diary is just angst-ridden drivel and reports on hockey scores, but there are some choice tidbits like this one from 1973, the very year I blogged about last week.

Wouldn’t you know that my idea of fun focused on eating a bunch of candy. Some things never change.

With posterity in mind even as a teenager, I think I kept every letter ever sent to me. In our attic excavation we have uncovered the mother-lode of correspondence, most of it from my college days, but some from that “magic” early 1970s period. The summer before 8th grade I went to visit my aunt Susanne in Massachusetts. It was the first trip I’d ever been on without my immediate family, and it was a long one — I bet I was gone for at least a month. My darling dual personality and I corresponded throughout. She even illustrated her letters — she was quite the artist, don’t you agree? (In case you are wondering, I didn’t tear out the picture. That’s the result of my freeform cut and paste using Paint).

She also included amusing quizzes, one of which I reproduce here.

Quizmo directions: Identify who said these words (the actor)

  1. “I say, Holmes! (clear throat…. chuckle, chuckle)”
  2. “You remind me of a Viennese Waltz”
  3. “Pity! Pity me!?”
  4. “Ouch! Sun-burn pain needs SolarCaine.”
  5. “It is, indeed, a bad scene…”
  6. “I hate to leave you here like this, Digby, but…”
  7. “76 trombones…”

I identified them all except for the SolarCaine one, which was apparently an inside joke that I didn’t get even then. How did you do?

My dual personality wrote very amusing letters. Here are a couple of examples — note the bright green ink on shocking pink paper. Ah, the ’70s…

And this, a few days later:

I have spent a happy few days reading all these wonderful missives, as I’m sure you can imagine. Just wait until I post about my college days! But beyond making me laugh out loud and recall past times, I have come away feeling very loved. My parents, siblings, and friends all wrote funny and informative letters exhorting me to work hard, have fun, and be happy. Not only could they all write well, but they composed long letters. It’s a dying art that we should revive. I  hereby vow to start sending snail-mail letters again!

As a historian, however, I read these letters with a growing sense of unease. What will later generations make of these things? Anyone reading my diary would think I was deeply unhappy and quite dim-witted, but the truth is I only wrote in it when angry, depressed, or bored out of my mind, and I rarely included any actual news. By contrast, the letters, in which I still recognize many hilarious in-jokes, might lead an unknowing reader to believe that we actually liked Barry Manilow, thought Robert Preston the epitome of masculine virtue, called people “peasant fatso” (okay that’s true), and regularly corresponded with someone named Pancho. The mind reels! Perhaps I should annotate them? I’ve already decided to ditch the diary.

Stay tuned for more from the dual personalities’ wayback machine, including my dear sister’s love story in her own words (!), and have a good weekend!