Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

July 23, 2013

I prefer the real thing

Cathie Shaffer
The Independent

ASHLAND — I received an email card congratulating me on my one-year anniversary. Alas, the well wishes came from the car dealer that sold me my new used car last year and were followed up a few days later with a recommendation that it may be time to take a look at my brakes and tires.

Yes, this is what modern life has come to, praises for my maintaining a relationship with a hunk of Detroit-made motor and metal. Although, come to think of it, I do get cute postcards every so often reminding me that the dog or one of the cats is due for a shot or flea medicine.

There was a time, not that long ago, that when I heard footsteps on the porch, I knew it was someone coming to visit. These days it’s usually just a guy hanging a pizza special thing on my doorknob.

I am not going to lament how wonderful things were in the good old days because I like paying my bills via the magic of the Internet. Getting instant updates and photos of what my faraway family members are doing via Facebook is great, too. But when I see a family in a restaurant, each member busy with his/her own cellphone or other communication device, I feel a little sad.

Our kitchen table was communication central for me as a kid and for my kids as they grew up. I consider myself lucky that both my children still feel that way. When we get together for a meal, cellphones are banned as we eat and conversation is encouraged.

OK, that conversation may take the form of teasing one of the teenagers about her adoration of mashed potatoes or an argument over why anyone would put mustard on a piece of grilled steak. But what’s said is not of great importance.

Being with each other is.

It was at one of those communal meals during a visit by my nephew and his family that I realized what a startling resemblance my oldest granddaughter has to his oldest child, about two at the time. In fact, a casual observer might have thought they were mother and daughter.

That let us to a discussion about how much one of the other grandgirls resembles my niece, which morphed into recollections of some long-gone relatives and others separated from us by distance.

The upshot was an eventual pulling out of family albums to look at the many pictures I’ve collected and taken over the years. Kids who have been raised in a world of twitter, texts and cameras built into every device they carry were having a blast digging through boxes of old pictures and listening to our stories of how they came to be taken.

I ran into many pictures that were decades, even a century, old while helping clean out my mother’s house in preparation for settling her estate. Some had me shouting for my sister, usually ones that were unflattering to her but occasionally one that brought back a powerful memory. As I tucked some of those photos into my stack of things to bring home and others into the boxes of photos she intends to scan into the computer, I realized that newer isn’t always better.

Yeah, it’s nice that the car dealer decided to congratulate me on buying a vehicle from them last year. And it’s good to see pictures of my nephew’s family vacation as it happens.

But I don’ t think anything can replace the thrill of finding an old photo of my father taken when he was a young man and seeing my mother’s handwriting on the back, a visible and physical contact that reminds me I am touching something she also touched. She may be gone but that link remains, a precious and most personal connection.

CATHIE SHAFFER can be reached at cathieshaffer@zoominternet.net