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Using technology to remember those long gone

By T.J Ray

Computers are wonderful places to stick images and ideas. In a hurry to get a chore done? Then load the diversion on your hard drive: you can always come back to it.

No, you owe me nothing for that free advice — so long as you aren’t upset when you find you have saved precious things you can’t later find. Such is my life.

From time to time, I cruise through the five hard drives attached to my computer, searching for someone’s address or a recipe for peanut butter pie or a piece of music I really would like to burn to a CD. Along the way, items that I saved but have not revisited lately appear, forcing me to detour from my original quest to check out the new nuggets.

Don’t laugh at me for my collection of hard drives. Look at the shelves in that closet you seldom open. Pull out the drawers of the desk you never sit at. And there you will find your data collection — boxes of letters, handwritten recipe cards, old photos.

Sometimes new digital applications create bad news for me, particularly when an old application no longer runs because of the system upgrade on the computer.

Now I have to face the reality that I should have converted them to PDF or something else long ago.

At times while sending an email, I will spot a name that I haven’t used in an address in a long time. That name and the phone number and town that go with it are safely stored in my computer address book. For some of those folks, I may even have photos locked away. Or email letters they sent me. Or their birthday in my birthday file.

But it’s all still there, never to show up again in the TO line in an email app. You see, those are angels that have moved on to a better world.

The earliest such listing was a well-to-do attorney in Sacramento. We began corresponding three decades ago while members of an association of letterpress folks.

I still have some of the little things he printed and sent me — far better than any I ever reciprocated with. We used the telephone two or three times each year, certainly on Christmas. I think we were very good friends but we never met before he died.

Another printer acquaintance is alive (and I hope well) who lives in Ohio. What I said about the previous friend applies as well. We have shared the news of lost loved ones and will remain dear pals long after his or my address no longer elicits answers.

My brother died in a head-on crash in Arizona three years ago. Ah, the pictures I have of him growing up that I have scanned are precious indeed. His phone number and email address hold their place in my address book.

Someone asked why I keep those little data bits, and I didn’t really have a great answer. But it did set me to thinking.

My conclusion may be wrong and certainly has no power of resurrection, but I like it. It’s like the feeling I have when I go past one of those names, often stopping for a bit, always sensing at that instant their presence, their face, their voice. Their essence is safely stored on my hard drive.

T.J. Ray is a retired professor of English at Ole Miss.