New Years Eve 1999 was the year everyone threw a big party (or so it seemed). It was of course the year of the Y2K – the year of the hype and the worries surrounding the transition from one millennium to another. Not wanting to miss out on the family fun, my husband and I trekked from California to Sweden with our two kids in tow. We were going to host a party in the apartment we rented and had invited family and friends alike. We had big expectations but were brought down to earth almost immediately upon arrival; all four of us got the flu.
My husband was so sick and delirious that he had to go to the ER in the middle of the night. For a while, it seemed our party would be a no-go. Somehow, we all recuperated and the party was on (whether it was the Swedish drugs, the hot soup, the combination of jet lag and flu that knocked us out so badly that we just slept it all off, I don’t know). In the end, a good time was had by all! We even woke up on January 1, in the year 2000 to a world that was seemingly the same as it had been the night before.
I often think about this particular New Year’s Eve at this time of year, not because of the Y2K-thing, or the flu-thing, but because of my grandparents. My paternal grandfather and maternal grandmother were both there and I think it was the last time we celebrated all together. They were both old and becoming frail by then. They didn’t get along all that well, except for when they both had had a bit to drink – they were the best of friends then. I have pictures of them dancing that night; champagne glasses in their hands, smiles on their faces.
My grandparents never came to visit me in California. They were both terrified of flying. I don’t think my grandmother ever went on an airplane and my grandfather only once, as far as I know. I know they both would have loved to experience California. My grandfather would have been impressed with all things automotive, the focus on customer service at restaurants and stores and the grand landscapes. My grandmother would have loved walking around the neighborhoods around our house, admiring gardens and other houses. She would have wanted to visit art galleries in San Francisco and the Museum of Quilts and Textiles in San Jose. They both would have loved the coast and the ocean, no doubt about it.
My grandparents did not have computers or e-mail. I don’t think my grandmother ever had a cellphone, so there was no texting or sending pictures easily back and forth; there was no FaceTime or Facebook. We communicated mostly via letters and the occasional enclosed pictures. I would call every now and then, but mostly we wrote letters.
As much as I appreciate the ease with which I can communicate with my overseas family today, I am so glad I have those letters from my grandparents. I usually bring out a few around this time of year to read: my grandmother’s artsy cards and my grandfather’s family crest embossed letterhead. Sometimes, the letters are nothing more than simple greetings with observations of the latest day-to-day activities, others have book recommendations, words of encouragement, or thoughts on world events. These letters present a tangible window to the past – where we were, how we were feeling and what we were thinking. I still have those letters, a whole stack of them dating back to when I was a kid actually.
Sometimes I wonder if my own kids are not missing out on a great thing. Sure they can be in constant contact with most anyone around the globe at any time, all with a couple of keystrokes. They can snapchat and tweet and instagram and get immediate feedback from friends, family and strangers. But, most of that communication is fragmented and without context. When I feel a little homesick, or when I am missing my grandmother, I love that I can pull a letter out of a box. I love that I can touch it and smell it and trace the familiar handwriting. I love that I sometimes find a picture or a newspaper clipping. I love that if I want to, I can pull out one more.